Q: What does a family of booksellers read?
A: Lots of stuff, all the time.

This is an ongoing, continuously fed list of what the Booksweet Family read – and loved – in 2022. Think of it as our little in-store “book talkers” listed here, all in one spot. Some of the books listed below are new releases, some are old favorites, and some are “coming soon” reads, available for pre-order. Have fun exploring, reader!

AUGUST READS

Raymond [8th grade] // 

All Summer Long by Hope Larson
This is a great book for middlegrade readers. Bina is going into 8th grade next year, she is going to be the top dog in her school. But she’s not ready to leave behind her “childish” summer activities. She doesn’t understand why her best friend Arthur won’t grow up at the same pace she does. I liked this book because I found Bina relatable and I loved the illustrations. This book would do great as a present and is a must-have in a middlegrade library.

Shaun // 

Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah
Gurnah, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2021, builds a multigenerational story of the human toll of colonial powers’ wars in east Africa in the early 20th century. At the center of the story is Afiya, whose brother Ilyas had been abducted as a young boy by German troops and conscripted into their army; he re-enters her life just long enough to rescue her from an abusive foster family before enlisting, this time voluntarily, to fight for Germany in the Great War. Another young man, Hamza, also fought alongside German forces in his homeland, and, although he finds some favor with one commanding officer, he is brutally attacked and cast out when the war effort begins going poorly. This sequence of events leads him to Afiya, who, years later, remains haunted by her brother’s disappearance and uncertainty over his fate.Gurnah’s book is as much about colonization of minds as of land, with one character telling Ilyas, “My friend, they have eaten you,” and casts light on the physical and emotional scars that linger after the fighting has ended.

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
McCurdy’s telling of her mother’s relentless quest to make her daughter a child star at any cost is incredibly unsettling, with frequent bits of humor underscoring rather than alleviating the tragedy of her physical and emotional abuse. The audiobook, read by the author, is especially moving and feels almost too personal. 

Maison Ikkoku vol. 1 by Rumiko Takahashi
Legendary manga artist Rumiko Takahashi has been crafting delightful stories for more than 40 years – her latest, Mao, is now ongoing, while Inuyasha remains a Hot Topic staple some 25 years after its initial publication. Maison Ikkoku, one of Takahashi’s earliest works, is a romcom set in an apartment building, where flailing college applicant Yusaku Godai vies for the affections of building manager Kyoko Otonashi, while rest of the boarding house’s quirky residents complicate everything. It’s cute, it’s sweet, it’s a classic of the medium.

The Very Genius Notebooks: The Chronicles of Deltovia
by Olivia Jaimes [preorder: September 20]
I am a huge fan of Olivia Jaimes (current artist of the long-running Nancy comic strip), and wow, this book is every bit as clever and inventive as anything she’s done. The heavily-illustrated story (think: Diary of a Wimpy Kid) takes the form of a notebook passed back and forth between three middle school girls as they collaboratively write an epic fantasy novel. It is just so… much… fun. Will the friends achieve their dream of literary stardom? I mean, maybe!

An American Martyr in Persia by Reza Aslan [preorder: October 11]
Reza Aslan’s biography of Howard Baskerville, an American missionary who joined the constitutionalist revolution against the shah in Persia, is fascinating beyond the life of its subject for the world it helps illuminate. Perhaps because there is so little record of Baskerville’s life, Aslan devotes the bulk of his book to the early 20th century culture and conflicts of the country now known as Iran, giving readers a glimpse into this world as the young American would have experienced it. For his role in a foreign revolution that cost him his life, Baskerville was disavowed by his home country and church but revered as a hero in Persia until another revolution reversed the nation’s progress toward democracy. 

Strike the Zither by Joan He [preorder: October 25]
Remixing the classical Chinese epic Romance of the Three Kingdoms as YA fantasy with women in the leading roles, Joan He crafts a compelling new vision of Zephyr, a young strategist who will do whatever it takes to protect the exiled noble Xin Ren – including betraying her to rival warlord Miasma. With a bit of enemies to lovers energy and some enigmatic divine intervention, Strike the Zither is a lively adventure for fans of Chloe Gong and Marie Lu.

Truly // 

Asian American History of the United States by Catherine Ceniza Choy
In the highly accessible, narrative style of Dunbar-Oritz’s An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Hannah-Jones’ The 1619 Project, or Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, Ceniza Choy has documented an inclusive and expansive 200-year history of Asian Americans in the United States in a way that speaks to the urgent needs of the here and now. I deeply appreciated Ceniza Choy’s ability to systematically dismantle harmful myths like the animosity between Asian Americans and African Americans. Instead, Ceniza Choy builds a strong case for the deep allyship formed during the civil rights movement and beyond, revealing the myth itself to be a divisive tool of oppression. The “rise” in Asian American violence during the COVID-19 pandemic is shown to be a continuation of political scapegoating and oppression with a 200 year American legacy. First person accounts and personal meaning-making are woven throughout the book, reminding us that history is personal and it lives inside all of us.

Speaking of the personal… the murder of Vincent Chin, an American automotive draftsman of Chinese descent who was killed in a racially motivated hate crime by two Chrisler emoloyees, happened during the year of my birth (1982). I was raised in Michigan by my white family, the majority of which worked in the auto industry (many of them draftspeople like Chin). While I was exposed to anti-Asian racism growing up in SE Michigan during a time when Japanese auto-companies were thriving and “the big three” were not, I hadn’t heard the story of Vincent Chin until adulthood. Erasure is one of the deadliest tools of oppression there is. If you share any of my identities (white, Michigander, coming from a family of autoworkers), consider this book a critical read. Chin’s murder is explored in the book, along with so much more that your education likely deprived you of. We cannot reconcile what we do not know.

My Government Means to Kill Me by Rasheed Newson
This exciting debut novel by Bel-Air co-showrunner Rasheed Newson stars Trey, a gay, Black 17-year old who escapes his complicated small town past in the New York City of the 1980s. A coming-of-age story that leans fully into the sexual exuberance of a 17-year old discovering the joys of his neighborhood gay bathhouse, this story is also filled with loving intergenerational friendships and a load of really interesting historical cameos (Bayard Rustin! Larry Kramer!). In the midst of Trey’s self discovery, the AIDS epidemic takes hold of his community, drawing him into activism and direct action via an underground AIDS hospice run by his first lesbian friend. This work of historical fiction taught me so much about the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) movement while never losing sight of what makes a great book tick: the amazing characters. I can’t wait to see what Newson writes next.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin
Shaun has a really dear habit of laughing out loud with gusto while reading. While our reading tastes usually differ quite a bit, our sense of humor is the same: I know that I’m going to love a book that makes him laugh. (If you’re curious, before Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow,  the last time this happened was this winter with Lan Samantha Chang’s amazing book The Family Chao, coming out in paperback on September 20, 2022). I’m just here to enthusiastically second what Shaun said in his March book blurbs, when he was encouraging pre-orders of this gem:

“The sheer joy of this book! Zevin’s latest follows childhood friends Sam Masur and Sadie Green who find each other once again in college and decide to create video games together.  Sadie and Sam, along with Sam’s roommate Marx, who becomes their game company’s producer, share such a believable, complex friendship, full of joy, loss, and yearning. Tomorrow^3 is as much a book about the workplace as it is about video games, and Zevin delves into both the exuberance and the grind of creating entertainment, as well as how that process can bind people together or break them apart.” 

Fans of Emma Straub’s and Jennifer Eagan’s explorations of human relationships and the dramas of our everyday contemporary lives, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is sure to win your heart.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
cw: sexual assault, self harm, depression
Some books just have a way of breaking me open a little bit, revealing tender spots I didn’t even know were there. For me, that happens when an author is kind enough to challenge her readers directly, encouraging them to ask themselves tough questions and be in discomfort. The structure and pace of Speak, molded so incredibly around a year of deep depression following a sexual assault, challenged me. It was hard to sit with, but what a gift it was for me to do so. For anyone who loves someone healing from a major depressive episode, for anyone who loves a person who survived a sexual assault: let this book be a guide, a glimpse into what healing really looks like up close. It’s hard. But I think looking away is harder.

Speak comes in at #25 in the American Library Association’s list of Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books (2010-2019) and was part of Booksweet’s Banned Book Club in August. Bans and challenges to all books gut me. But to suppress the story of a young woman trying to find her voice feels extra sick. Read banned books. Let them challenge you. Not the other way around.

Remember: Booksweet donates 10% of our Banned Book Club reading list to the ACLU, protecting our freedom of speech and fighting bans and challenges across the nation. Join us for Banned Book Week September 18-24, where we’ll have a variety of ways to connect with fellow readers around our freedom to read.

The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch
cw: sexual violence, child abuse, miscarriage, war crimes
Sometimes I finish a book by a new-to-me author and I’m so blown away by their writing that I feel an immediate hunger to read everything they ever wrote. So was the case with me when I read Thrust by Lida Yuknavitch.

The Small Backs of Children is Yuknavitch’s 2015 novel chronicling the interconnected web of human life at the center of an image snapped by an American photojournalist in an Eastern European war torn village: a young, naked girl blown forward while her home explodes in the background. While 222 pages is a slim read, it really can’t be longer because you’ll be holding your breath the entire time. Yuknavitch is masterful at the art of tension: her writing never sags. While Yuknavitch’s descriptions of violence are genuinely gutting, there is no excess to be found. She tells the stories lurking at the darkest corners of our human reality without flinching, surfacing unspoken truths about the perils of girlhood, the grotesqueries of war, and our often desperate search for agency in a world so eager to write our stories for us. For the brave fans of Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, Yuknavitch’s The Small Backs of Children will similarly captivate and haunt you.

Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization by Neil deGrasse Tyson
[pre-order for September 20, 2022]
Forget the “bird’s eye view” or the “30,000 foot view:” America’s favorite astrophysicist dad Neil deGrasse Tyson wants us to take a view of humanity from the cosmos. Covering a wide range of topics that have haunted us since the dawn of humanity – including racism, plague, and war – deGrasse Tyson encourages fresh explorations of these challenges using rationality and science. Ultimately, this book seeks a paradigm shift: away from the ideologies that divide us and towards a genuine curiosity for a more scientific approach. While rationality seems pretty far-fetched these days, I enjoyed imagining a society that looked a little more like the Starship Enterprise and a little less like the January 6th insurrection. 

For those of you who participate in holiday gifting, this book is a great one to consider for beloved family members who you might not see eye-to-eye with (families are complicated: we get it). Starry Messenger might just offer you both a new way to be together as humble passengers on Mothership Earth.

Need a pick-me-up? I listened to this read through our audiobook partners at Libro.fm and while I didn’t agree with everything deGrasse Tyson had to say (exploring messy human issues through the lens of scientific rationality is sure to bring up some moments of dissent), it was an absolute gift to start my day with his soothing timbre and his little pep talks for humanity.

Anne of Greenville by Mariko Tamaki
[pre-order for October 4, 2022]
Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables fame has always had my heart. She speaks her mind, she stands out, and despite the traumas of her past, Anne is hellbent on thriving.

In Tamaki’s YA retelling, Anne is brought into our immediate present with triumphant glory. She’s a rollerskating, disco-loving, sparkle wearing, theater kid who sticks out like a sore thumb in the small town of Greenville, the little boring town she’s moved to. Other things that make Tamaki’s Anne different: she’s a queer, adopted Japanese-American girl who dyes her hair bright orange in a town of white people with naturally colored hair. Plus, one of her moms is the Vice Principal at her school. Tamaki’s Anne faces Greenville’s bigotry with bravery (and some classic Anne explosiveness) and she manages to find her tribe. 

I don’t know about you all, but I’ve always been irked that Anne falls for Gilbert in the OG Anne of Green Gables. He was an asshat to her most of the time and deserved that slate she smashed over his head. I never understood why Anne and her “bosom friend” Diana didn’t hook up, since clearly they were into each other. In Tamaki’s beautiful retelling, Anne finally finds a happily ever after that makes sense.

Looking for other great Anne of Green Gables adaptations to explore? Check out the middlegrade graphic novelizations by Brenna Thummler and Kathleen Gros – and my personal favorite, Anne of West Philly by Ivy Noelle Weir and Myisha Haynes. And I’m sure we’ve all dived into Anne With an E on Netflix, right? Amazing. Welcome to my Anne Shirley fan club, now accepting new members.

JULY READS

Raymond [8th grade] // 

My Brain is Different Stories of ADHD and Other Developmental Disorders by Monzusu
This book is about the experiences of neurodivergent people and what did/did not help them.

I liked the ways each story showcased various symptoms of specific disorders and looked at how neurodivergence shows up differently for everyone. I think that anyone would enjoy My Brain is Different, especially someone who is neurodivergent. I also think a parent trying to learn more about their child’s neurodivergence would enjoy it to find out more about how their kid’s brain functions.

Shaun //

Babel by R.F. Kuang
An anti-colonialist Oxford book where linguistic nuance is the foundation of magic? It’s like this book was written just for me. Robin Swift was taken from his home in Canton as a young boy and raised by an Oxford don to be a translator – and in so doing, attain the arcane power of etching powerful spells in silver bars. But a chance encounter with a revolutionary cell and a close-knit group of friends with their own reasons to refuse to serve the British empire sets Robin on a deadly path, making enemies of his adoptive father, his former professors, and the Crown itself. Babel is a smart and thrilling book for fans of Kuang’s Poppy War trilogy, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth.

The Disney Revolt by Jake S. Friedman
The Disney Revolt is a fascinating history of Disney and the broader animation industry through the lens of labor. Friedman presents Walt Disney as a leader driven to innovate, as well as one who inspired – and demanded – loyalty. Disney’s rise throughout the 1920s and ‘30s was built on what amount to incredibly progressive policies, paying their staff more than other cartoon studios while also allowing its animators a great deal of freedom to experiment and develop their own specializations. Walt also supported an employee-led initiative to provide free art lessons and lectures, on company time, for animators at any level who chose to participate. But the demands of producing Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the first feature-length animated film, put significant strains on both the company and its staff, leading less equitable pay and poorer working conditions; along with the era’s constant maneuvering between legitimate labor unions and those backed by organized crime, a long and ugly strike was almost inevitable. This is an excellent book for anyone interested in the history of organized labor or the early days of animation.

Waking Beauty by Rebecca Solnit [preorder: November]
A follow up to Cinderella Liberator, Solnit once again uses a light touch to bring a tale as old as time into the 21st century. Unlike many reinventions of fairy tales currently enjoying popularity, Solnit retains much of the structure of the original – including deploying Arthur Rackham’s watercolor silhouettes, which had adorned a 1920 edition of Sleeping Beauty – to tell a fresh story of vengeful witches, a young woman cursed to sleep, and ultimately everyone living happily, without archaic celebrations of royalty, a princely hero, or the amorphous promise of “ever after.” Solnit, too, gives the middle portion of her tale to the deeds of the sister who did not sleep, hence the title, and thus creates a female hero with agency that had been lacking in the original. 

The Book of Gothel by Mary McMyne
The Book of Gothel tells the story of the witch who stole Rapunzel, from the witch’s perspective and weaving in details from tales including Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and several others. The legend of Haelewise, the woman who will eventually become the Mother Gothel, begins in her girlhood, when her parents strive for a cure for her frequent fainting spells – without resorting to Haelewise’s mother’s knowledge of the heretical “old ways.” But when Haelewise’s mother dies, Haelewise is set upon a path of discovery, enchantment, and tragic loss, as she fights against powerful princes before establishing her base at the tower of Gothel.

Truly // 

Thrust by Lida Yuknavitch
This book left me speechless, breathless, and sobbing real sobs for buried treasure concepts as expansive, as nuanced, and as specific as Liberty. Transcending traditional structure, Thrust’s sense-making is far more fluid, like a poem, a song, a motif, a dream. Don’t let that scare you. The characters are viscerally real, anchoring the tale to the core of the earth, the core of your heart. They are captivating and you’ll abandon anything for the chance to stay put with them… and listen. 

Most books are broken into chapters, but each section of Thrust feels more like a tide pool, narrative flowing in and out, moving creatures of the sea with its force. In each tide pool, readers swim in the margins of history with a collection of fascinating characters including Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi (the sculptor of Statue of Liberty); Frédéric’s powerfully sensual cousin Aurora (who insists that orgasms are not the point of her services); a group of immigrant laborers who become found family during the construction of Mother Liberty; a father and daughter trying to survive a not-too-distant-future where the east coast has been swallowed by the sea; and an incarcerated youth in the present day. The story centers a character named Laisvė, a “carrier” of objects and people to their right place in history. Laisvė uses “water portals” to travel, traversing realities using the push-pull demands of the tides and of nature. Also: there are talking whales, turtles, worms, and mycelium. There are rare coins and the taste of pennies in mouths. Thrust swept me out to sea and taught me how to breathe underwater. I’m surfacing from this book feeling absolutely ravenous to read absolutely everything Yuknavitch has ever written. 

Fans of Ursula K. Le Guin and Emily St. John Mandel will devour this book, but I wholeheartedly recommend it for any reader looking for something completely unexpected and gripping. Worth mentioning: while it is absolutely not the point of this book, Thrust features some of the most imaginative erotic writing that I’ve ever read. A bonus for some but perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea. 

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey
On the surface, this is a simple love story about a fisherman and a mysterious, powerful beauty from the sea. He is a bachelor named David. Her name is Aycayia and she used to be a mermaid. There’s discovery and longing and sex. 

There’s also some really interesting complexities to this story. Set in 1976 in St. Constance on the island of Black Conch, Roffey’s characters constantly brush up against their Colonial histories in their tiny Caribbean village – always recoiling, sometimes reconciling, and forever reminded. 

A bonus for some (me): the language in the book is delightfully filthy – and I don’t just mean the sex stuff. There’s a description of Aycayia’s transformation into womanhood that is a wonderfully gross departure from the Disney telling of this process. (Spoiler: it reeks, involves poop in the bathtub, and a lot of sea lice.)

The Mermaid of Black Conch is a Costa Book of the Year Award Winner. Maggie O’Farrell loved it (she’s the author of Hamnet, a Booksweet reader favorite). And you just might find a great escape in this read too. 

Woman of Light by Kali Fajardo-Anstine
Among many things, Luz “Little Light” Lopez is a tea leaf reader with the ability to tap into both past and future, a skill that connects her to five generations of her Indigenous Chicano family.

Set in 1920s-1930s Denver, Fajardo-Anstine’s writing feels immediate and contemporary. Her characters aren’t trapped in any sort of imaginary Americana – they are fully imagined individuals with delights, vices, secrets, and dreams. The Lopez family navigates hardscrabble poverty, racism, and the manifest destiny opportunism – but the heart of the story is how Luz navigates her own desires and builds a future of her own making.

I really enjoyed spending time in Fajardo-Anstine’s story, with its softest touch of magic, its flesh-and-blood real characters, and its language that feels so very alive. Fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Louise Erdrich: if you’re looking to explore the next generation of authors diving into the literary riches of the American West, you’ll love spending time with Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s work. She is a force. 

All That’s Left Unsaid by Tracey Lien [pre-order for September 13, 2022]
The unexpected death of a loved one has a way of shattering the stories we tell ourselves into a million pieces, creating space to puzzle together new narratives. In Lien’s debut novel All That’s Left Unsaid, early career journalist Ky Tran is left to do just that when her over achieving younger brother Denny is murdered while celebrating his high school graduation with friends.

For fans of Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You and Brit Bennett’s The Mothers, Lien brings readers into the Vietnamese enclave of Cabramatta, Australia – and into the complex realities of what it means it be a refugee community, racialized and reeling from the intergenerational trauma of forced flight. I loved this book’s honest explorations of lapsed childhood friendships, of mother-daughter relationships, and of an eldest sister’s feelings of fierce love for her younger sibling. Tracey Lien delivers so much more than sleuthing – this is a murder mystery out to make you cry.

JUNE READS

Raymond [8th grade] //

Welcome to St. Hell My Trans Teen Misadventure by Lewis Hancox
This book is a graphic novel memoir (one of my main genres) about a trans man’s coming of age gender story. It has many relatable topics for trans people or anyone in the lgbtq+ community. In the story, Lewis sometimes speaks to his younger self, giving himself little pep talks and letting himself know everything is going to be okay. Even when things are messed up or he makes questionable choices, Lewis still loves himself. Also, Lewis makes really funny videos about the comic where he sometimes pretends to be his mom @lewishancoxfilms [on TikTok and Instagram

Shaun //

Babel by R.F. Kuang [preorder: August 23]
An anti-colonialist Oxford book where linguistic nuance is the foundation of magic? It’s like this book was written just for me. Robin Swift was taken from his home in Canton as a young boy and raised by an Oxford don to be a translator – and in so doing, attain the arcane power of etching powerful spells in silver bars. But a chance encounter with a revolutionary cell and a close-knit group of friends with their own reasons to refuse to serve the British empire sets Robin on a deadly path, making enemies of his adoptive father, his former professors, and the Crown itself. Babel is a smart and thrilling book for fans of Kuang’s Poppy War trilogy, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth.

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell [preorder: September]
Hamnet author Maggie O’Farrell returns with another novel inspired by a spicy woman of the sixteenth century. Lucrezia di Cosimo de’Medici, whose fate inspired Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess,” was fifteen when she was dispatched in marriage to the Duke of Ferrara in a bid to unite two powerful families. Less than a year later, while traveling with her husband Alfonso to a country estate, she comes to realize that he intends to murder her because she has not yet produced an heir. Through flashbacks to Lucrezia’s childhood and the early days of her marriage, O’Farrell unveils a portrait of a passionate, creative woman grasping at whatever freedom she can attain within the loving but rigidly patriarchal household of her parents and then the conspiracy-filled court and domestically abusive world of Ferrara. Art serves as an intriguing role within the story – Lucrezia herself is a talented artist, and Alfonso’s marriage gift of a portrait of a stone martin suggests he may be a kindred spirit, and the production of the titular marriage portrait presents a glimpse into other worlds of potential. 

How to Raise an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
Structured as a parenting memoir and incorporating stories of his own youth, Stamped from the Beginning and Antiracist Baby author Ibram X. Kendi explores how parents and caregivers can resist passing racist ideas down to the next generation of children. Like his previous book How to Be an Antiracist, Dr. Kendi’s latest is not a step-by-step guide but rather a spotlight on the racist systems that permeate our lives, often in ways that are not obvious. But the principles he offers in Raise, if adopted, do provide practical guidance: naming racism is necessary to combat it, and asking questions is a powerful tool to do so. 

Clementine by Tillie Walden
This is a book that intrigued me from the moment I heard about it – On a Sunbeam cartoonist Tillie Walden tackling The Walking Dead. Walden’s heartfelt, understated story is a great reminder of what TWD, and post-apocalyptic fiction in general, can be at its best: an exploration of how we can live in a broken world. Clementine, a character who debuted in the Walking Dead video game series, is now on her own and doing her best not to form attachments. Soon, though, she is joined by Amos, a cheerful Amish teen who is unexpectedly skilled with an ax and who is on his way to a refuge he believes will teach him to build homes and then enjoy the unheard-of luxury of a plane ride. Of course, that refuge is nothing of the sort, and Clementine, Amos, and their new friend Ricca must contend with threats from both the dead and the living. It was heartening to see how Walden is very intentional about disability in this book and the ways it affects her characters – Clem begins with a bad prosthetic leg before receiving a much better one, along with guidance on its use, while Ricca’s reliance on glasses for sight is taken seriously, never as a gag or source of cheap suspense. Clementine is a compelling read for fans of Walden’s previous books (Are You Listening?) or The Walking Dead, but previous knowledge of either is not necessary to enjoy this story of a young girl striving for hope in the ruins.

Truly //

We Are The Middle of Forever: Indigenous Voices from Turtle Island on the Changing Earth edited by Dahr Jamail and Stan Rushworth
In this collection, Rushworth, a Native American educator and activist, and Jamail, an award-winning journalist, share their interviews with North American Indigenous artists, scholars, community leaders, elders, and activists. While the book jacket states that the book “places Indigenous voices at the center of conversations about today’s environmental crisis,” the scope and impact of the wisdom shared in this book is vast and richly interconnected. The interviewees argue that contemplating and addressing climate change requires an understanding of history, beloved kinships, and deep re-examinations of colonial interpretations of concepts such as “rights,” “obligations,” “responsibilities,” and “freedom.” The narrative pulse of the interviews shines through thanks to skillful and grounded editing by Jamil and Rushworth. The reading experience never feels overly academic; it feels personal, nourishing, and filled with hope. For those seeking to decolonize their hearts and minds, the voices in this book are reaching out to you, offering you a gift: a starting place in the middle of forever. 

Queer Ducks (And Other Animals): The Natural World of Animal Sexuality by Eliot Schrefer
I want to keep this book in my backpack and give it to people who say that being queer is “unnatural.” (Yes, I’ll also push my glasses up my nose and say “actually…” in this scenario.) Schrefer makes deep scientific research a riot to read, peppering amazing animal facts with anecdotes, personal stories, mini-comics, and interviews with LGBTQ+ biologists. I have a newfound love for the very queer lives of velvet horned deers, dolphins, wrasse fish, bonobo monkeys, cows, geese, ducks, fruitflies… the list goes on. I really do love a good animal fun-fact, but Schrefer’s book also offers an incredible exploration of scientific bias. The identities of the people doing the science (and the cultural context that science is being done in) can absolutely alter reported findings. We need to create affirming career paths in the sciences (and all fields!) for LGBTQ+ community members (and all people with marginalized identities!): our actual understanding of the world and our co-liberation depends on it. Queer Ducks is the text book I loved as an adult that I wish I had as a teen (psst… teachers with cool classroom curriculums and resources: take note!). 

Horse by Geraldine Brooks
I’ve got to be honest: I didn’t expect to like this book but I totally loved it. Horse is a uniquely American story of racism, class, relationships, and art that unfolds in three parallel narratives: one set in the mid-1800s, one set in the mid-20th century, and the last set in DC in 2019. In each narrative, the characters are brought together by the legend of Lexington, a real-life prize-winning racehorse and legendary thoroughbred sire. A Pulitzer Prize winner (Brooks was honored in 2006 for March, where she dives into the “untold life” of the dad in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women), it should come as no surprise that Brooks delivers a masterful approach to story structure, deeply developed characters, and historical research brought to life. The use of Lexington as a writerly “device” never felt forced; in fact, thanks to Lexington, I learned a ton about the history of horse racing and the Black groomsmen and trainers who brought that American tradition to life. The book broke my heart a few times (there were actual gasps and tears), but the story reverberated for days after the final chapter. 

Melissa by Alex Gino
This book was our Banned Book Club pick for June – and I adored it. Everyone thinks Melissa is a boy, but she is actually a girl. She likes her fashion magazine collection, loves her BFF, and longs to be Charlotte in her school’s theater production of Charlotte’s Web. Through the magical “show-don’t-tell” of storytelling, Melissa generously and gently offers readers tips on how to lovingly affirm trans friends, classmates, students, and family members (and what not to do). This book is a great book to read and talk about together as a family – especially if your kid doesn’t identify as trans. I assure you: whether you know it or not, the kids in your life have trans friends, trans classmates, trans teachers, and beloved community members who are trans. It is important for the health of our community now and in the future that our kids build strong allyship and kinship skills. It’s never too early to start and to do so with intention – plus, authors like Gino make it fun.

Learn more about how to use Melissa’s name from author Alex Gino.

Remember: Booksweet will donate 10% of the profits from all Banned Book Club reads to the ACLU as part of our annual Banned Books Week celebrations in September. 

Love Marriage by Monica Ali
I listened to this book from our audio partners at Libro.fm – and didn’t know a thing about it before diving in. I thought I was going to be swept away into a light, fluffy, contemporary romance: I was very wrong. Instead, I found intense can’t-stop-won’t-stop emotional investment in Ali’s characters and an appreciation for her exacting, nuanced observations about gender, race, and class. Ultimately, this is a story about an immigration-fractured family history in need of reconstruction and multi-generational healing. Ali’s characters learn that as hard as addressing the past can be, it is vital in order to move forward. Ali was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for her 2004 novel, Brick Lane, the newest member of my towering TBR pile. 

Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions by Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi [preorder: September]
A novel of interlocking stories, this book follows the lives of Nigerian friends Remi, Nonso, Aisha, and Solape as they move from girlhood into womanhood. At the heart of the story: a traumatic incident that occurs during a student protest at their boarding school. “The incident” shapes each character’s adulthoods in a variety of ways, revealed over time. While each of the stories in this book could function in a stand-alone way, collectively they present a really refreshing, new-to-me way of telling a story. A few of the stories are told through the perspective of Remi’s college boyfriend, Solape’s mom, and Nonso’s housekeeper. I loved this “outsiders” perspective into the main characters’ lives; we are more than how we perceive ourselves, after all. Ogunyemi dips into the speculative fiction genre towards the end, a welcome surprise, thoughtfully rendered, and painting a picture of a healthcare debtors prison that will stick with me for years to come. In many ways, Jollof Rice delivers a socio-political drama about the personal adaptations the characters make as they live their lives in an ever-changing global context. But at its heart, this is a story of friendships, how they live inside our hearts and carry us into our futures. 

Signal Fires by Dani Shapirio [preorder: October]
This is a psychological family drama set in suburban America is the first work of fiction in 15 years by Dani Shapiro (author of the bestselling 2020 memoir Inheritance). Told from multiple perspectives within two neighboring families, this story explores the toll secrets can take on families, on futures, and on all who we encounter in this life. Shapiro’s descriptions of the crest and fall of white suburban communities felt spot-on but new in her skilled rendering: once-connected places where kids were raised and couples age before the cycle starts anew. I was really quite taken with Shapiro’s characters, in all their many flaws and in the ways they grew to change over the course of their lives. An angry dad’s temper cooling in old age. A middle aged woman’s reliance on alcohol to escape bad feelings. A mind of a beloved family member melting away in old age, memories frayed and frightening. It felt so real, yet there was hope in every character’s story. Signal Fires is a slim, quick read and fans of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere and Rumaan Alam’s That Kind of Mother will be happy they spent time with it.

MAY READS 

Raymond [7th grade] // 

Apple Crush (Graphic Novel, Peapod Farm #2) by Lucy Knisley
This book features very real, and not commonly talked about feelings. Jen (our main character) is in 6th grade and feels like everyone is so obsessed with romance – and she isn’t. Everyone makes her feel behind others and say things like “maybe when you’re older” and “are you SUUUUUURE you don’t have a crush?”  Jen finds this incredibly annoying, but tries to find ways to deal with it. This is a great book for older elementary school kids and middle schoolers – and anyone really who enjoys heartfelt writing and incredible art.

Truly // 

Jennifer Chan is Not Alone by Tae Keller [Middlegrade]
This story stars Mallory Moss, a middle schooler who structures many of her life choices in accordance with a “popularity code.” When Mallory joins her popular friends in a bullying campaign against Jennifer Chan – a new girl in town who Mallory actually finds pretty interesting and great – Mallory learns how to bring her actions into alignment with her values.

In the author’s note for this book, Tae Keller, a 2021 Newbery Award Medalist (When You Trap a Tiger), revealed that a critical part of her writing process for Jennifer Chan is Not Alone was to interview her own middle school bullies, learning more about their motivations. This is a great book for kids and their grown-ups to read together, offering gentle in-roads to honest conversations about bullying and the toxic popularity fiefdoms of middle school. 

When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill
A work of speculative fantasy, this book is a coming of age story that takes place after The Mass Dragoning of 1955, when wives and mothers sprouted wings, scales, and talons and left a path of fiery destruction in their paths. The story offers a heartfelt, character-driven critique of the patriarchy, internalized misogyny, the consequences of repressed rage, and what it means to take up space while caring for others. Plus, the word “dragon” used as a verb is spectacular. Kelly Barnhill is the author of the 2017 Newbery Award-winning book The Girl Who Drank the Moon. This is her first novel for adults – and hopefully not her last.  

Companion Piece by Ali Smith
I was a fan of Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet, a series of four lightly interconnected novels (Autumn, Winter, Spring, Summer) written and published within a tight time span (2016-2020)  to offer a literary snapshot of how “these uncertain times” play out in everyday human lives. Companion Piece has been called the “B-Side” to the quartet, situated in a post-Brexit, pandemic ravaged Britain. The lines between reality and fiction are blurred in the story, as characters from the bubonic plague times peek a toe into our present COVID timeline, creating a frayed narrative that is both ancient and deeply present. Smith’s character’s are rusty in the human interaction department – their dialogue creating a sense of claustrophobic panic, of fearful urgency, of total apathy, of missed marks, of something we’ve all forgotten how to do. Smith creates a tension in her writing that I felt in my chest; there were points in this book where I had to remind myself to breathe. Smith’s not aiming for enjoyment – she’s most interested in how we survive. Proceed with caution, reader. This book is incredible, but you’ll want to plan a chaser read (something light). 

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune
Speaking of a chaser book… I really appreciated this adorable gay ghost love story about personal growth, found family, and second chances. This character-driven fantasy is a great way to escape, de-stress, and get lost in a sweet romance.

Shaun // 

Election by Tom Perrotta
The movie version of Election starring Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick has long been a favorite, but I’m embarrassed to say I did not know it was based on a book by Tom Perrotta until the author announced the sequel, Tracy Flick Can’t Win (coming in June, preorder for fun freebies!). I loved catching up with Tracy Flick in the new book and thought it was time to have a look at the original. While the story arc is essentially the same as the movie – popular teacher Mr. M sabotages a student council election to stop overachiever Tracy from winning – the tone is very, very different in the book. Both versions are comedies, but whereas Election the movie plays absolutely every character for laughs (and it is very funny), Election the book takes every character absolutely seriously. This earnestness forces the reader to reckon with the situations unfolding through the lives of the characters experiencing them, including the abuse Tracy suffers at the hands of her English teacher and Mr. M. Tammy, Paul, and Lisa are also fleshed out and as a result are much more sympathetic – about the only character who comes off worse the more we know about him is Mr. M. Election is a slim volume, you’ll have time to read it before diving into Tracy Flick Can’t Win, and you absolutely should read both.

Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir [preorder: September]
The surprise third entry in Tamsyn Muir’s Locked Tomb series is a delight. Muir’s conceit of telling each book in the series from a new perspective allows her to flesh out the emotional world of her necromancers, undead god-kings, and assorted hooligans, and Nona’s wide-eyed innocence is certainly a turn from Gideon’s raunchy cynicism and Harrowhark’s fierce dedication. If you’ve read the first two books in the series, you’re already excited for this one so there’s not much I need to say. If you haven’t yet been initiated into the mysteries of the Locked Tomb, now’s a good time to start.

This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub
Emma Straub’s latest feels like part of a trend I noted in two other excellent recent books, Jennifer Egan’s The Candy House and Jo Harkin’s Tell Me an Ending, as well as the television show Severance. All three deal, in different ways, with the ability to alter memories and how that affects our lived experience. In This Time Tomorrow, though, it’s not just memories but a woman’s entire history that is changed, over and over, by revisiting one single night from her past – her sixteenth birthday party. While Alice learns to massage details of her present-day, 40-year-old life by making subtle tweaks to her past, she cannot alter one inescapable reality: her father is dying, and, somehow, the clock is running out. Straub explores family, friendship, and loss through Alice’s reflections on her life as it was and could still be. And, together with the other popular works, it should spark excellent conversation about why at this moment our culture seems hungry to edit our personal histories.

Superman: Son of Kal-El by Tom Taylor and John Timms
This is the first collected volume of the current Superman ongoing monthly series, which stars Lois and Clark’s son Jonathan Kent in the title role after the elder Man of Steel is called away on a mission to the stars. It is also possibly the purest story about who Superman is and should be since Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All Star Superman. Jonathan fights for “Truth, Justice, and a Better Tomorrow,” and he embodies a force for good unencumbered by the sometimes rigid barriers his father had placed upon his role in the world (or rather, that most writers have placed upon poor Kal-El since at least the 1950s). Superman: Son of Kal-El is not a comic about fighting bad guys (though there is, necessarily, some of that); it’s a story about a young man trying to address problems at their root cause, using all of the (super) resources at his disposal. Of course we can’t all bend steel in our hands and fly carefree above the city, but since his first appearance in 1938 the most memorable versions of Superman, across any medium, have been about inspiring us to be our best. Jon Kent is the Superman we need right now, a pure and shining symbol of hope and a call to action.

APRIL READS

Raymond [7th grade] // 

Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy
Huda F Are You stars Huda, a girl who lived in a town where she was the only kid in her class who wore a hijab. All of that changed when she moved to a different city (Dearborn, Michigan), where almost all of the kids in Huda’s school wore hijabs. Huda thought she lost the one thing that made her special. She struggles through middle school trying to figure out who she is. Follow along her journey to self discovery in a room of crowded people.

Shaun //

The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean [preorder: August 2022]
Dean’s first novel begins with a premise that will appeal to many voracious readers–that there is a race of people, almost but not quite human, who subsist on nothing but books–and builds a heartbreaking story about destructive family relationships, an entrenched patriarchy that harms even those at the top, what it means to be a mother – and what it means to be a monster. Raised as a “princess” within a remote English village, Devon learns early that her life is nothing like the stories she has absorbed by eating fairy tales. She has already been separated from one child per Book Eater custom, and is contracted to bear one more to do her part to keep their endangered people alive. But Devon’s second child Cai has a condition that affects his diet – instead of novels and histories, he consumes human minds to survive. Sunyi Dean melds fairy tale, palace intrigue, and family drama for a story of vicious love. 

How to Take Over the World by Ryan North
At long last, a book about the science of supervillainy! North is an incredibly funny writer (as you may know from his “chooseable path” Shakespeare books Romeo and/or Juliet and To Be or Not to Be, or his long tenure writing Unbeatable Squirrel Girl with artist Erica Henderson), and his humor is underpinned the impeccably organized intelligence you’d expect from somebody with a computer science background. There are lots of footnotes. How to Take Over the World explores the opportunities and challenges (but mostly challenges) that come with implementing a comic book-style dastardly plan. Discover the hidden costs of your villainous lair! Learn why reversing climate change may be the best way to conquer the world! Dig a giant hole! 

My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones
This is me trying to broaden my horizons a bit, as the horror genre is not a regular part of my reading regimen. Luckily, our heroine of My Heart is a Chainsaw is obsessed with slashers and eager to share her knowledge! Stephen Graham Jones’ latest (now in paperback) is lively and thought provoking, as teenage outcast Jade Daniels tries to apply slasher movie logic to a series of recent murders in her own town, attempting to suss out who will be next to face the killer’s judgement and doing everything she can to prepare newcomer Leitha Mondragon to become the “Final Girl,” an archetypal ultimate survivor who can put a stop to the chaos. But in hunting the potential slasher, Jade is also forced to confront her own trauma, which isn’t as simple as staring down a machete-wielding otherworldly menace. Chainsaw is a fast-paced thriller that both revels in and subverts horror tropes, ticking all the boxes for readers immersed in that world while providing a handy introduction for those less initiated.

Truly // 

Radical: My Year with a Socialist Senator by Sofia Warren – Available for preorder now – expected release date: 6/14
There is so much to love about Sofia Warren’s year of embedded reporting with Democratic Socialist New York State Senator Julia Salazar, representing New York’s 18th District (Brooklyn). In Radical, Warren uses a graphic memoir format to welcome readers into the mechanics of state politics, community organizing theories, and the rebirth of democratic socialism in the US in an entirely accessible, transparent way. This story is just as much about how everyday people create positive change (from the inside AND the outside of our government) as it is about Senator Salazar’s efforts to advance some of our nation’s most progressive tenant protection legislation in decades. For anyone who has ever left a protest thinking ‘well now what?’ – this book is for you.

Candy House by Jennifer Eagan
Using a cast of super memorable characters with interlocking narratives, Eagan explores the tangled web of complications unspooled by the mass-market commodification of our memories in a time that could easily be tomorrow afternoon. I loved this book’s ability to explore the chilly dark side of tech while staying firmly centered in the sticky, messy human-ness of it all: our deep desire to connect, to understand each other, and to be understood. This book lends itself so naturally to rich conversations about our everyday lives with tech in the 21st century – it would be a great pick for book groups or reading buddy pairs.

Leave the World Behind by Ruuman Alam
Despite its MANY incredible reviews (it was a 2020 National Book Award finalist!) I really wasn’t ready to sit with a book about a family locked away in seclusion from an earth-shattering catastrophe when it was released in 2020. Lately though, I’m drawn to reads of this nature (I’m no mental health specialist, but I think it’s a form of processing). The best word I can think of to describe this read is GRIPPING (yes, in all caps). It is a book that made me late to things (I had to see What Happens Next). As with That Kind of Mother (Alam’s amazing 2018 read), Leave the World Behind explores race, class, and the complicated slush of information that surfaces when we confront our assumptions and biases head on. Deftly, in Leave the World Behind, Alam uses uncertainty and emergent crises to reveal how – left unchecked – ignorant suspicions can buzz beneath the surface of every interaction when we are in panic-mode, our limbic-cortex in the driver’s seat. Also, Alam is a parent and I am deeply appreciative of his truth-telling about family life: there’s no glamor here, just a gutsy, often gory (strip the bedding after a puke) kind of love.

Little Foxes Took Up Matches by Katya Kazbek – [CW – sexual abuse]
Part murder mystery, part folklore, part queer coming-of-age-story, this read was full of surprises. Told from the POV of Mitya, a gender expressive tween growing up in Moscow in the 1990s, Little Foxes Took of Matches offers readers stunning character portraits, unlikely friendships, and an interesting glimpse into Russian culture. Mitya uses escapism as a form of survival in this story, often slipping into the world of “Koschei the Deathless,” a foundational Russian fairytale starring a cast of animal characters and a spell to prevent death. A VOGUE Best Book of 2022, this debut work was captivating – Kazbek is an author to watch. 

Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama by Bob Odenkirk
I needed a laugh this month (my reading was getting kinda heavy!) and it should come as no surprise that Odenkirk delivered. I listened to this read through our partners at Libro.fm to hear Odenkirk deliver the text. This memoir follows Odenkirk’s journey from a geeky teen from suburban Illinois writing comedy radio sketches for his college station to his current Hollywood stardom. Like any celebrity memoir, there’s a lot of name dropping but Odenkirk’s self-aware style spares no punches and the joke is often on himself. This book lifted my spirits – I laughed out loud and man did I need to. Even the jacket blurbs are funny:

“Bob Odenkirk (sp?) is an exceptionally and uniquely talented man who has had a huge influence on comedy for more than three decades. And now he’s given us his P.O.V. on that journey. This book is filled not only with lessons on ‘making it’ in ‘showbiz’ but also regular old life lessons as well (including his killer recipe for ‘Granny’s Sunday Loaf’). It’s funny, informative, and like the author himself, disarmingly honest. I look forward to meeting him one day.” —David Cross

MARCH READS

Raymond [7th grade] // 

The OUT Side: Trans & Non-Binary Comics, an anthology compiled by The Kao
The OUT Side is a large umbrella of gender affirming stories. It features so many transgender authors, all with unique art style and writing. I liked this book because everyone’s story is different, and I think The OUT Side really showcases that.

Shaun // 

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrowby Gabrielle Zevin [preorder: July 5]
The sheer joy of this book! Zevin’s latest follows childhood friends Sam Masur and Sadie Green who find each other once again in college and decide to create video games together.  Sadie and Sam, along with Sam’s roommate Marx, who becomes their game company’s producer, share such a believable, complex friendship, full of joy, loss, and yearning. Tomorrow^3 is as much a book about the workplace as it is about video games, and Zevin delves into both the exuberance and the grind of creating entertainment, as well as how that process can bind people together or break them apart.

How to be Perfect by Michael Schur
Fun with moral philosophy, from the creator of The Good Place! Schur gets some extra mileage out of his research for the show by compiling this sort of 101-level survey of Western philosophy’s great thinkers and ethical dilemmas. Plus, since Schur isn’t a “proper” philosopher, he doesn’t mind indulging in digressions into the sheer turgidness of Kierkegaard’s prose, or the absurdity of Kant’s “Treatise on Wind.” It’s got the humor you’d expect from a writer on The Office and Parks and Recreation, but there’s also a lot of substance – and if you’re looking for a gateway to a more serious study of philosophy, Schur points the way to some excellent places to start. I listened to the audiobook version, read by Schur along with all of his friends from The Good Place, adding some additional hedons into the mix. If you’d prefer the print book, the publisher has been out of stock for ages but they’ll be shipping again mid-April – might not be a bad idea to reserve your copy now.

The Golden Swift by Lev Grossman [preorder: May 3]
The second book in Grossman’s middlegrade series that began with The Silver Arrow, for those that enjoy conservation with their wizarding. Kate and her brother Tom continue their adventures on the Great Secret Intercontinental Railway, a mystical train line that allows them to rescue endangered animals to protect and restore their habitats. But with the disappearance of their uncle Herbert, who had been responsible for providing a timetable assigning the stops along their journey, Kate, Tom, and their friendly magical locomotive the Silver Arrow embark on a new rescue mission – encountering along the way a rival in the Golden Swift, whose conductor has some revolutionary ideas on ecology.

Hollow Fires by Samira Ahmed [preorder: May 10]
Samira Ahmed’s latest YA thriller is inspired by current events — both the generalized, such as the recent increase in hate crimes, and the specific, modeling the character at the heart of her mystery after the young boy whose teachers mistook his science project for a bomb. Ahmed is working with a lot here, but of course, as some have always known and many more are coming to recognize, all of the various threads of hatred and discrimination are connected. In her efforts to solve the disappearance of 14-year-old Jawad Ali, teen journalist Safiya must fight a local community that are indifferent at best and hostile at worst, while also walking a fine line with school administration to keep her role at the paper and avoid expulsion herself.  Hollow Fires paints a haunting portrait of the ways bigotry conceals itself with a smile and the determination it takes to stand against the tide.

Watergate: A New History by Garrett M. Graff
There is no shortage of books on Watergate, but Graff’s comprehensive history is lively and engaging, and does a stellar job of keeping the sprawling cast of characters distinct in readers’ minds. As someone who knew broadly what the scandal was about, I was utterly astonished at the many of the details — including the apparent incompetence or buffoonery of many of the conspirators. Nixon’s arc throughout the narrative is wild, and there’s certainly room to wonder what his legacy might have been if hadn’t got caught up in all the skullduggery — or if he just hadn’t got caught. I listened to Watergate as an audiobook on Libro.fm, and Jacques Roy’s narration was delightful.

Truly // 

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
Available for preorder now – release date: 4.5
Shaun wrote about this book in February’s bookstack, but I just wanted to chime in to second his enthusiasm. This book is amazing. The plot moves with confidence into a speculative future of time travel and space colonies. As “deep sci-fi” as this sounds, St. John Mandel keeps readers grounded in everyday human desires, tensions, yearnings, and flaws. Like Station Eleven, Sea of Tranquility is about what it means to be human – our connections to each other and to the histories and futures that inform our present.

My Volcano by John Elizabeth Stintzi
A volcano bursts forth from the ground in Central Park, upending life in New York City and around the globe. It grows, slowly at first, and anchors intersecting tales from a folklore professor, a Mongolian shepherd, a trans science-fiction writer, a manager of an “emotion-managing service” startup called Easy-Rupt, an ad executive who finds himself quite literally in two places at once, and an 8-year-old Mexican boy who is thrust back in time to Tenochtitlan in 1516, and others (!!). Stintzi masterfully brings all of these narrative strands together to weave one of the realest portraits of 21st century anxieties that I’ve ever read. In the vein of Tom Robbins and Daniel Pinkwater, Stintzi’s use of the absurd and the fantastical offers readers an amazing view of our messy, beautiful, and impossible real world – imparting a cautious optimism in the process. If you crave the unexpected and are delighted by a wild ride, this book is for you.

Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American by Laura Gao
This memoir in graphic novel form is a delight. The expressive line work and voice-y writing welcome readers into Gao’s coming-of-age story with open arms. We see Gao at their best and at their worst in this read, honesty and compassion moving in heartfelt tandem. Gao explores the complicated dimensions of their immigration story, their family relationships and parental expectations, their queerness, and what it means to be a Wuhanese American in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fans of Lucy Knisley, Alison Bechdel, Maia Kobabe will happily connect with this read.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Revisiting this read in advance of our next Banned Book Club gathering on 4/15, I was struck as I always am by Morrison’s unflinching portrayal of humanity. This story follows Pecola Breedlove, a Black child who wants nothing more than to have blue eyes. She does not see beauty or worth in herself – and as the story unfolds, readers learn about the myriad of familial, personal, and societal contributions to this fact. These contributions can be hard to sit with – sexual abuse, rape, and incest chief among them – but you cannot change a world you don’t dare to name. The Vintage International edition of this book that we carry at Booksweet includes a forward by the author. I recommend reading the forward last (as is done in the audiobook version read by the author), giving you something to sit with and contemplate after the last chapter is through.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter could teach a master class in code switching. Her life in her predominantly Black neighborhood of Garden Heights is a world away from her predominantly white suburban prep school. When Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer, the pressure and tension of living in two worlds becomes untenable. With bravery and heart, Starr finds her voice and speaks truth to power. This YA read, published in 2017, offers inroads to vital conversations about racism, police violence, stereotypes, white privilege, code-switching, micro-aggressions, and more. We’ll be talking about The Hate U Give at the third in-shop gathering of our Banned Book Club onFriday, 5/20.

FEBRUARY READS

Raymond [7th grade] // 

All Together Now by Hope Larson
This is book #3 in Hope Larson’s All Summer Long series, but this one has got to be my favorite so far. Bina’s band Fancy Pink is really starting to kick off, getting gigs all over town. The group even gets an offer to make their first record! Bina is delighted by the idea and immediately goes to her parents. And of course, her parents immediately say no. Fancy Pink will not have their dreams crushed by some pesky parents, so they come up with a plan…

Magical Boy vol 1 by The Kao
Magical Boy is one of my favorite reads yet. Our main character Max is born into a line of bound-by-blood goddesses. Although to the average person this may seem awesome, Max is less enthusiastic. He is a trans boy – and his frilly, girly, magical girl persona gives him extreme dysphoria. While he struggles with bullies, transphobic parents, and extreme embarrassment, Max is fighting off monsters, and trying to keep two different dimensions in check. Come along with him as he tries to save the world.

Magical Boy is part of our Every Day is Trans Visibility Day reading list. During the month of March, Booksweet will donate 10% of all sales from this list to our friends at Stand With Trans.

Truly // 

Tracy Flick Can’t Win by Tom Perrotta [6/7 release]
Did you know that the 1999 movie Election was based on a book by Tom Perrotta? (If you’ve not seen this one, Reese Witherspoon as the relentless 11th grade perfectionist Tracy Flick is pretty hilarious.) In Tracy Flick Can’t Win, readers are reintroduced to a middle aged Flick, now a mother and high school administrator whose ambitions for promotion are threatened by a superintendent who is far more interested in football game wins than in education. Revisiting the scandals of Election in a Me Too era deepens Perrotta’s cultural critique and his exacting dark humor is as sharp as ever. This is a quick, smart, funny, and highly enjoyable read – perfect for kicking off the summer months. Pre-order now!

The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang
Shaun blurbed this read in January (“modeled on the Brothers Karamazov from a contemporary Chinese American perspective”), but I love this read so much I just want to bring it up again. It was amazing. In an interview with NPR, Chang discusses how she started writing at a time when “a kind of understated, minimalist quality was admired” – and how she threw all of that out the window to capture the bombastic, larger-than-life personalities of the Chao family. The dialogue is a delight, peppered with exclamation points and creative sibling verbal abuse. While the text is voluminous, the story is tight. Chang’s tale feels both outrageous and real – a story worth telling and told masterfully.

The Boy with a Bird in His Chest by Emme Lund
In the matter-of-fact style of magical realism, Lund introduces us to a boy named Owen and the sassy, talking sparrow named Gail who lives in his chest. Owen is encouraged to hide Gail from the world, driven by his mother’s fear of “The Army of Acronyms.”  A coming of age story like no other, this read explores our deepest needs for authentic, “come as you are” connection – with others and with ourselves. In interviews (I really liked this one with The Brook Reading Podcast), Lund invites readers to see Gail without metaphor, although it’s hard not to interpret allegory in this work. For every identity that’s ever been split in two, institutionalized, or made to live in fear just for being themselves, this book offers a safe harbor and hope. This read is one of those books that I know will live inside my imagination for a lifetime – a gift.

The Boy with a Bird in His Chest is part of our Every Day is Trans Visibility Day reading list. During the month of March, Booksweet will donate 10% of all sales from this list to our friends at Stand With Trans.

Recitatif by Toni Morrison, with a forward by Zadie Smith
In this 1983 short story — the only short story Morrison ever wrote — we meet Twyla and Roberta, who have known each other since they were eight years old when they were roommates in a children’s shelter. Morrison tells her readers that one character is white and another is Black, although she withholds info on “which is which.” This act offers a really incredible experiment captured in a very slim read. In Zadie Smith’s powerful intro, we learn that most white readers assume that the narrator of the tale, Twyla, is white. Most Black readers assume that Twyla is Black.

This book is an invigorating experience, inviting us to ask ourselves and our fellow readers: what does racial coding mean? When does it matter? Why? What assumptions do we hold – and how does it feel when those assumptions are challenged by ambiguity? I highly recommend it as a book club read – or just something to read with a friend you can talk about it with. It’s a small gift of a book, but the conversations it will inspire will be anything but slim. 

Honor by Thrity Umrigar
Like Olga Dies Dreaming, this read offers a really fresh and interesting take on the “big city girl finds love” narrative. The elements of romance are absolutely there, but so too are nuanced and unexpected examinations of social justice, diasporic longing, and the devastating consequences of patriarchal traditions. In Honor, readers travel back to India with Smita, an American journalist tasked with covering an incident whereby a Hindu woman is attacked for marrying a Muslim man. Smita is joined in this effort by her guide Mohan. The intensity of their work sparks a tender closeness that neither were expecting – and that works to empower their pursuit of truth and justice in surprising ways. 

New From Here by Kelly Yang [Middle Grade]
Our family really loved Yang’s Front Desk series – and while our kid has moved on in their reading, I’m not ready to let go. New From Here is told from the pov of Knox Wei, a 10-year old bi-racial American kid with ADHD who had been living with his family in Hong Kong until COVID-19 hit. Like all of Yang’s writing, Knox and his siblings voices ring clear, distinctive, and true. It was a gift to spend time reflecting back on the early pandemic days from a child’s POV. This is a great book to read together as a family, as it opens up really important conversations about the pandemic, about racism, and about how to keep our families, our communities, and ourselves whole in challenging times. –Truly

Shaun // 

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel [forthcoming, April 2022]
Station Eleven author Emily St. John Mandel returns with the story of an unexplained event uniting three strangers across five centuries, a mysterious figure who seems to know more than he’s letting on. This is an incredibly fast-paced read — so much happens in just the twenty pages! — and each of the central characters are as lively as they are doomed.

The Nineties: A Book by Chuck Klosterman
Klosterman explores this formative decade, which he defines as the cultural era between the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind in 1991 and the fall of the Twin Towers in 2001, both through the history of what actually happened and how it felt, or how it’s remembered. I was a teenager in the nineties, which gave me a particular perspective, and this book is a fascinating review and contextualization of a lot of events I remember or half-remember, as well as an exploration of the fundamental changes wrought by innovations including the televised confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas and, oh, the advent of the internet. Klosterman, too, brings a certain perspective to the book, but he cops to his biases early and, I think, compensates for them fairly well. I listened to this one as an audiobook, read by the author.

The Latinist by Mark Prins
A tale of obsession and career sabotage set in the classics department of an Oxford college! Prins’ story of promising young scholar Tessa Templeton, preparing to defend her dissertation on an obscure Latin poet, and her mentor and supposed friend Christopher Eccles who torpedoes her job prospects with a damaging letter of recommendation in an effort to her close to him, is a smart and intriguing puzzle. The mystery is not so much in what Eccles did–this is never in doubt–than how Tessa will respond, and how Chris will in turn react to that. Tessa’s strategies to recover from her advisor’s machinations both propel her toward an exciting discovery and threaten to undermine all she’s worked for. Prins offers a delightful turn on the myth of Daphne and Apollo — you don’t need to be a classics scholar to appreciate this book (I’m not), but an interest in history and mythology will be rewarded.

JANUARY READS

Raymond [7th grade] //

Queer As all Get Out: 10 People Who’ve Inspired Me by Shelby Criswell I like that the narrator of the book talks about the ways that people in history have influenced their actual real life. The artwork is great and expressive. The writing feels personal, like you’re talking to Shelby. If you liked Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked The World, you’ll also probably like this one. I did!

Shaun // 

The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang
Modeled on the Brothers Karamazov from a contemporary Chinese American perspective, The Family Chao is the story of three brothers at very different places in their lives who come together for a Christmas dinner at their family’s restaurant, a gathering with consequences beyond what any of them could have imagined. Chang’s story is a delightful and fast-paced murder mystery full of relatable but incredibly flawed characters, exploring issues of family, race, and defeated dreams.

To Paradise by Hanya Yanigahara
The inventive new novel by the author of A Little Life takes readers through three eras of American history – one alternate past, one near present, and one impending future – through a close focus on one family’s conflict in each era. The threads that tie each story together are sometimes overt (as in the recurrence of character names and the Washington Square townhouse) and at other times more subtle, as fortunes rise and fall on unknowable consequences and things left unsaid.

The Complete Guide to Absolutely Everything (Abridged) by Adam Rutherford and Hannah Fry
Reading this not long after The Dawn of Everything, I couldn’t help but see the two books as companion pieces, with Graeber and Wengrew tackling “Everything” from a sociological and anthropological perspective and Rutherford and Fry doing so from their perch in math and science. While the authors’ wit makes Dawn frequently quite funny, Guide is solidly a science-humor book, with absurd asides and joky bickering between Adam and Hannah. There is also an intricate description of an image of me, Shaun, playing soccer with Taylor Swift and an alien lizard – which the authors insist exists – and I will spend the rest of eternity searching for it.

Truly // 

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone
Winner of the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, and Locus Award for best novella, this lyrical little book reads like a song. Written as love letters between two rival agents fighting a “time war,” this story expands and contracts it’s way through the multiverse in a stunning celebration of language. My favorite thing about this book: the details of the war are almost superfluous – the story stays unwaveringly focused on the love these women have for one another and the risks they’re willing to take to honor their love. 

Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez
I gave this book a whirl after seeing all the great Indie Next buzz about it. Alongside a super cinematic “busy career woman learns to love” plot, Gonzalez weaves in meaty observations on gentrification, radicalization, family expectations, immigrant experience, racism, classism, homophobia, and what it means to find our own values (and stay true to them). This read totally upended my expectations of what a rom-com style story can accomplish and won my heart in ways big and small.  

The Cabinet by Un-Su Kim
For fans of Karen Russell, Haruki Murakami, and Tom Robbins, The Cabinet introduces readers to the fantastical world of  ‘symptomers,’ humans whose strange abilities and bizarre experiences might just mark the emergence of a new species. Winner of the Munhakdongne Novel Award, South Korea’s most prestigious literary prize, Un-Su Kim embraces the absurd, the offbeat, and the everyday strangeness of our lives. I adored this read.

Violeta by Isabel Allende [1/25 release]
Centenarian Violeta Del Valle’s life, bookended by two pandemics, bears witness to some of the greatest upheavals of the twentieth century. Written as an epic letter to her grandson, Violeta details what it meant for her to live through the Great Depression, South American dictatorships, and the fight for women’s rights. With candor and joy, she explores how the events of her history informed her evolutions as a sexual, ambitious, and honest woman, forever becoming. The writing is personal, visceral, and “makes real” history in a way non-fiction often misses the mark on. As always, Allende’s writing is a gift to be treasured. 

No Land to Light On by Yara Zgheib
When a young couple from Syria is torn apart by the 2017 travel ban on the eve of their son’s premature birth, the American Dream swiftly becomes a nightmare hellscape. The immediacy of Zgheib’s writing creates a tension that had me turning the pages turning well past bedtime in search of a soft(er) place to land – but when Zgheib offers these much-needed breathing spaces, she does so in rich, savorsome detail. This book offers an up-close look at the complex and ever-changing realities of how we love our families, our country(ies), our communities, and ourselves in a geo-political reality where our best laid plans can be scattered to the wind in an instant.

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
When Frida Liu leaves her toddler alone in the house – clearly an ill-advised and super dangerous parenting strategy or “a very bad day,” as Frida calls it – her family’s world is utterly decimated. Like Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun, and Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Chan explores class, race, misogyny, and futures by gently nudging existing social, political, and technological realities to reveal a sick dystopia just beneath the surface of our everyday lives. The book features robot dolls; an over-reliance on racist, sexist, and deeply problematic data collection methods; and incites maternal rage over the million-and-one impossible (and societally unsupported!) realities of modern-day motherhood. As a nation, we are largely absent when tasked with supporting parents in the rearing of the next generation – but quick to punish when mothers fall short.

An Abolitionist’s Handbook by Patrisse Cullors [1/25 release]
In her latest book, BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors offers tangible tips for how to approach collaboration, community organizing, and ways to show up for ourselves each day with the goal of sustainability and deep change. Her explorations of “non-reformist reform” – how to stay grounded in the creation of new systems as opposed to “reforming” broken systems – has sparked an ongoing conversation in our household, one we pick up each day and use to hold our actions to account. Cullours also offers tangible advice for staying grounded in courageous conversations, building community in a way that can sustain the test of time (and inter-group conflict), and creating personal boundaries to keep readers focused in their work. In many ways, this is a “self help” book for activists and other change-makers. If you are working in community with others to address racial justice, this is a great book to read together as a group. 

How to be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question by Michael Schur  [1/25 release]
Our family was huge fans of the NBC show, The Good Place, a super funny sitcom about moral philosophy set in the afterlife. This book was written by The Good Place creator Michael Schur with similar goals as the show – and in a similarly punchy style. The book invites regular folks into the wild world of moral philosophy using everyday language peppered with jokes. Few books can ping-pong effortlessly between Kantian ethics one moment and the Insane Clown Posse the next. This book has my heart. 

If you’re an audio-book listener, catch this book on Libro.fm. The author reads the work with help from the cast of The Good Place, including Michael Schur, Kristen Bell, D’Arcy Carden, Ted Danson, William Jackson Harper, Manny Jacinto, Marc Evan Jackson, and Jameela Jamil.

On the Line: A Story of Class, Solidarity, and Two Women’s Epic fight to Build a Union by Daisy Pitkin [Pre-order for 3/29 release]
This debut is part memoir, part history, part how-to guide detailing the work of Daisy Pitkin, a young labor organizer, and Alma, a second-shift immigrant worker who risks her livelihood fighting for safer working conditions. In addition to shining a light on the horrific working conditions of many industrial laundry enterprises, the book offers tactical advice for those interested in forming unions – giving language, structure, and concrete examples to an endeavor rife with risk and uncertainty. Also appreciated: Pitkin, a white woman from Ohio working in solidarity with a Spanish-speaking immigrant population, deftly offers readers her unflinching honesty about the unsettling and unsettled power dynamics inherent in her work.

The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
One of my favorite reads of all time, I’ve read this book three times in my life: 

  • First time: in 2011, a 29-year old parent of a toddler. 
  • Second time: in 2016, in the aftermath of the US presidential election.
  • Third time: in 2022, in the midst of pandemic parenting and in preparation for leading a 1/31 community book discussion about the read.   

I notice new things about the read – new relevance – with each dive in. In many ways, Butler’s exploration of a not-too-distant dystopian future is unnerving in its prescience, but it also offers tangible advice for ways to live into any reality we are handed through a radical, religious embrace of change. Butler’s writing is straightforward, unflinching, and just as invested in asking questions as embracing answers. The main character, Lauren, is a leader we have so much to learn from and Butler’s commitment to accessible language and storytelling is a reflection of the urgency of her lessons. If you’ve not read this classic, now is always the time.