Q: What does a family of booksellers read?
A: Lots of stuff, all the time.
This article is a continuously refreshed round-up of books that Booksweet co-owners Shaun and Truly (and sometimes their 14-year old Raymond!) enjoyed in 2023.
Curious to explore our favorite reads of 2022? We’e got you covered.
The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store by James McBride
I’m always excited to read a new book by James McBride. Though his latest kicks off with a skeleton in a well in 1972, nearly all of the story takes place in the 1920s and ‘30s within a small Pennsylvania neighborhood called Chicken Hill, where Jewish, Black, and immigrant communities strive together even as they remain largely apart. Chona, the proprietor of the titular shop, agrees to help hide an orphaned deaf Black boy named Dodo from the state to keep him from being incarcerated in an asylum, setting off an unlikely course of events that works to unravel several of the town’s deepest secrets (and maybe ends up putting that skeleton in the well). McBride’s expansive cast of characters are richly human, giving life to a tale of America as it was lived, with all of the laughter and sorrow, the friendship and distrust, the ugliness of ableism and racism and the hope of creating something of your own. Great for readers of McBride’s previous books including The Good Lord Bird, as well as Colson Whitehead.
Bookshops and Bonedust by Travis Baldree
Like Legends & Lattes, this is a fresh, fun, and sweet take on the fantasy genre. Viv and her companions are lively and relatable, and the story is overwhelmingly wholesome (despite a lot of cursing). Great for readers who love fantasy but need a breather from glorious battle.
Princess Floralinda and the Forty-Flight Tower by Tamsyn Muir
From the author of the Locked Tomb series (Gideon the Ninth, etc.), Floralinda is an absolutely delightful fairy tale parody. Princess Floralinda finds herself imprisoned at the top of a tower by an evil witch, and each floor below is guarded by a different monster. But none of the princes who come to rescue her can get past the dragon just past the entrance. Eventually, Floralinda… not so much decides, but has an opportunity to attempt to free herself. With the grudging aid of a fairy named Cobweb, Floralinda overcomes increasingly ferocious beasts, in the effort becoming something other than what she’d been before. Muir’s descriptions of the action are frequently laugh-out-loud funny, and her characters’ mistakes and misdeeds always carry consequences, though not necessarily the ones you might expect. The print edition of this book has so far only been available in very limited editions, all of which are currently out of print; thankfully, you can experience Princess Floralinda as an audiobook, and this story really does benefit from being read aloud.
Bookshops and Bonedust by Travis Baldree
Everything Shaun said in his blurb plus this: if you’re looking for a cozy, super feel good story but aren’t willing to sacrifice wit and smart writing, this book is for you. Controversial opinion: I find Star Wars boring and I always wished it could just all be various intergalactic species living, laughing, and loving in the Mos Eisley Cantina. Bladree’s books are that: incredible characters who lay their swords down and just do the stuff of living. Also: if you didn’t read Legends & Lattes, don’t worry. You can dive into this first without missing a beat.
Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Take My Hand explores America’s not-so-distant history of federally funded eugenics programs and is loosely inspired by the 1973 case of Relf v. Weinberger, whose ruling stated that federal dollars could not be used for forced sterilizations and established standards for informed consent. The story centers 11-year-old Erica Williams and her 13-year old sister India, cared for by Civil, a young and well-heeled nurse at the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic. Civil’s interactions with the Williams family, an “offsite” home visit on her roster, are rich in complex interpersonal and class dynamics. While both families are Black, Civil is the daughter of a successful doctor, living in a beautiful, well-stocked home and the Williams family lives in a hole-roofed shack with a dirt floor. The “charity mindset” of community care, policy, and healthcare is at play from the very beginning of the story, lacing its way through the bond Civil forms with the girls and their family. Through masterful storytelling and compelling characters, Perkins-Valdez brings to life the complexity, pain, and necessity of reproductive care while fighting for its vital center: choice.
Meet Me by the Fountain by Alexandra Lange
Not going to lie, malls were a pretty big part of my formative years. And even today, I find deadmall videos much more fascinating than I probably should. Whether the idea of “the mall” evokes nostalgia, excitement, or revulsion, Meet Me by the Fountain is an intriguing look at a formative American institution. Lange explores the history of shopping centers from a primarily architectural lens, but this of course draws in so much of the social history, as well. The rise and fall of malls and mall culture – all taking place within very recent history – is a compelling tale about the development of American suburbs and the shape of our communities.
It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth by Zoe Thorogood
Zoe Thorogood follows up her semi-autobiographical The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott with the fully autobiographical Lonely, which like its predecessor experiments with the graphic novel format to explore issues of loneliness, depression, and the unending churn of an artist’s life. Thorogood’s art is organic and charming, and though the material is heavy, she’s an engaging and sympathetic storyteller. This book was nominated for an Eisner Award (the comics industry’s highest honor), and Thorogood herself was named as the medium’s most promising newcomer for 2023.
The Many Masks of Andy Zhou by Jack Cheng
Like so many of us, Andy Zhou enters middle school with a sense of excitement and possibility, only to find challenges he could never have anticipated. His best friend Cindy decides the two of them will reinvent themselves by dying their hair and joining the dance club, but instead of drawing them closer together, these shared experiences threaten to drive a wedge between them. Meanwhile, Andy’s antagonistic lab partner Jameel becomes an unexpected friend, and Andy’s grandparents, visiting from Shanghai, bring both joy and conflict at home. Detroit-based author Jack Cheng draws on his own experiences of trying to fit in as a young immigrant at school and within his family and circle of friends, creating a sweet and energetic story of self-discovery.
Our family listened to The Many Masks of Andy Zhou read by Eddy Lee on Libro.fm while enjoying a little road trip this summer. Lee captured Cheng’s pitch-perfect middlegrade tone perfectly in this production (not too young, not too old, lots of learning and wonder but no “talking down”). The book opened up good family conversations about first generation immigration stories, representation, bullies, and disordered eating (which Cheng introduces sensitively and with incredible care). Bonus: this book is set in metro-Detroit and readers will have a fun time imagining the story unfold in places they’ve lived and visited. Jack Cheng will be at Booksweet on Friday, September 29 at 7 pm to lead a FREE writing workshop for tweens (ages 10-13). RSVP for this FREE event.
Detransition, Baby by Torry Peters
What a riveting read! I could not put this book down. Winner of the 2022 PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novels, Detransition, Baby is an intimate exploration of gender, parenthood, love, and trans life. The plot has all the high-drama of a soap opera, with none of the voyeurism. It centers an unlikely trio: Reese, a trans woman with a deep desire to become a mother (and a habit of sleeping with married men); Amy/Ames, Reese’s ex-girlfriend who has detransitioned and has recently impregnated their cis lover (who just so happens to be their boss); and Katrina, the cis, “straight,” women carrying Ames’ child. The characters and their motivations are incredibly well-developed: messy, imperfect, complex, contradictory, and deeply human. If you’re looking for a great book club pick, Detransition, Baby is a total page-turner and is brimming with conversation starters for those looking to tease apart complex issues of bodily autonomy, family, desire, identity, and choice.
Natural Beauty by Ling Ling Huang
What a wild, strange, and thrilling book! Huang knits together an unexpected blend of literary fiction, mystery, thriller, scifi, and body horror to completely skewer the beauty industry. Set in a beauty company called Holistik (which is like Gwynth Paltrow’s goop Beauty but way more messed up… I hope), the story’s protagonist is a 20-something ex-pianist who remains unnamed throughout most of the book until she is forced by the company to adopt an anglicized name. While we don’t know her name, Huang plunges readers deep into the inner-workings of our protagonist’s family histories, her relationship with music and the piano, her experiences of racism, her feelings of isolation, her poverty, her elder-care responsibilities in the broken U.S. medical system, and her desires with a raw intensity and depth. The plot is filled with unexpected twists and exacting critiques of consumerism, identity, classism, and luxury. I really enjoyed this one – although if body horror makes you gag, you’ll likely want to sit this one out.
Sky Ropes by Sondra Soderborg
This realistic middlegrade book is full of so much heart! I loved getting to know Breanna Woodruff, a big-talking, softball-loving prankster with a painful family secret tucked away in her heart. Set during sixth-grade camp, Soderborg skillfully reminds readers of all ages that vulnerability is bravery, that healing is a group activity (and we all have a role to play), and that there is always more to a person’s story than meets the eye. This book is filled with great conversation starters for classrooms and families alike. An Ann Arbor-based debut author, Soderborg’s resume includes child advocacy and teaching in both a high school and in a prison; these experiences inform her deep and skillful character work. Breanna’s journey provides a trauma-informed road map of sorts, including practical “calm down” methods for managing anxiety and panic attacks, concrete examples of what building group agreements and norms looks like, and scene work that demonstrates what it looks like to show up for yourself and for others. Plus, Breanna’s hometown is Ann Arbor in disguise, which is always a treat.
A Coastline is an Immeasurable Thing by Mary-Alice Daniel
Pre-order the paperback edition, out on November 14, 2023
Lyrical, emotionally evocative, and brimming with arresting visual language, A Coastline is an Immeasurable Thing shares Daniel’s childhood experiences as a Nigerian immigrant to Reading, England and Nashville, Tennessee–and the connection she found in adulthood to Los Angeles, California. Daniel’s family returned to Nigeria to visit family intermittently throughout her childhood and her perspective of seeing the nation first-hand in pieces over the years offers a unique way to understand the nation’s politics, practices, and position. Daniel’s feelings of belonging (and not), of home yearning, and of place have a universality about them, but her specifics offer a deeper understanding of Nigerian culture, of tribal identities, of the specific ways that racism and xenophobia inhabit individual communities, and how Daniel herself has found expansive meaning in her journey to define “home.” Local connection fun fact: In addition to a host of incredible academic accomplishments (an undergraduate degree from Yale, a PhD in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of California), Daniel has an MFA from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at U-M.
Skating on Mars by Caroline Huntoon
Mars is not a boy or a girl: they are non-binary. While they build courage to share their truth with friends and family, they also navigate the highly gendered domain of competitive figure skating, their one true passion. All this while they are grieving the death of their dad, figuring out the friendship reconfigurations of middle school, and oh yeah… homework. Huntoon is an Ypsilanti-based non-binary author, parent, and public educator; their handling of Mars’ gender story is deeply tender, piercingly personal, and so exactingly true. You can absolutely tell that Huntoon is surrounded by the age they are writing for all day through the oh-so-realistic dialogue, the true-to-life Instagram messaging, and the unique way that Gen Alpha (kids born from 2010-2024) and their Millennial/Gen X parents and teachers interact. Mars is the kind of character who shines bright as they learn the ropes of self advocacy, vulnerability, processing huge emotions, and creating change. This is a vital book for the representation that it brings for non-binary youth, but it is also a vital book for cis readers of all ages to learn from Mars’ experience in order to show up better for our non-binary friends, family, classmates, colleagues, and community members. My sincere hope and need for the world is that classrooms and families read this book together–and talk about it with honesty and with love. What the world needs now is Mars. Caroline Huntoon will be at Booksweet on Sunday, October 29 at 2 pm to lead a FREE writing workshop for tweens (ages 10-13). RSVP for this FREE event.
My Murder by Katie Williams
In a not-too-distant future, clones are real and the wrongfully murdered can be “brought back” to life via cloning. In this murder mystery / speculative fiction read, a group of clones meet in “clone group therapy” to try to make sense of their new lives. Are they the same person that they once were? What is their relationship to a past they never lived? And was the murder of their original body actually caught? The twists in this book are wonderful and the dialogue is peppered with wry and unexpected jokes. While I wouldn’t categorize this as a “cozy” mystery, the violence happens off the page (the victims already died). I really enjoyed this read, brimming with fun philosophical questions, cool characters, weird jokes, and a really riveting plot.
Come & Get It by Kiley Ried
Pre-order now for January 9, 2024
Ried is masterful at cringe-worthy moments, pitch perfect dialogue, problematic characters, and the glorious awkwardness of young adulthood. I loved Ried’s debut novel Such a Fun Age and I was again captivated by her brand of messy, imperfect women in Come & Get It. Set in a college campus in Arkansas, money, indiscretion, and reckless restlessness pulse through this page-turner, pushing the plot to darkly funny and delightfully horrifying places. The book reads like really good gossip – it’s literary yet super juicy and fun.
Family Lore by Elizabeth Acevedo
Pre-order now for August 1, 2023
I love Acevedo’s YA fiction, The Poet X and Clap When You Land and I was so excited to experience her first foray into “adult” fiction with Family Lore. Acevedo weaves together past and present in Santo Domingo and New York City to tell a multi-generational story about the magical women of the Marte family. When one of the elder sisters, Flor, predicts her own death and plans a living wake for herself, the occasion prompts all of the women in the family to grapple with their own life’s purpose. I was surprised at the effectiveness of Acevedo’s “light-touch” magical realism (magic is a lovely and unquestioned presence yet largely stays in the background) and her frank exploration of female sexual pleasure (one of the characters was gifted with a magic vagina). Family Lore is a story filled with entertaining eccentricities, high drama, and heart.
The Wind Knows My Name by Isabel Allende
For decades, Allende has been one of my favorite authors; I’m excited to read everything she writes. Like many of her stories, The Wind Knows My Name spans continents and decades, illuminating how world events impact the lives of everyday people. In this story, a boy is orphaned by the atrocities of the holocaust and grows into a man who provides sanctuary to an El Salvadorian child refugee separated from her mom at the U.S. / Mexican boarder. War and migration, unjust deaths and reclaimed lives, found family, grief, the grit and joy of the human experience – Allende delivers it all in a character-driven story full of feeling and surprising bursts of hope.
Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow
CW: sexual violence, harm to a minor, domestic violence
A multi-generational story that moves back and forth through time with fluid feeling, this story centers the women of the North family: grandmother Hazel, her daughters Miriam and August, and granddaughter Joan. With unflinching directness, Stringfellow also shines a light on the North family’s horrific family secrets, on the systemic and interpersonal racism they experience as Black women, and on the undercurrent of violence that threads through their lives. This book was hard to read in places – please note my CW and proceed with care – but I loved how the interpersonal dynamics between these women nudged each woman forward, not always in a linear fashion, come what may.
The Fragile Threads of Power by V.E. Schwab [preorder: September 26, 2023]
An unexpected but thrilling return to V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic universe! As revolution brews against the Maresh reign, Rhy, Kell, and Dellah Bard are dragged into new and perilous circumstances they are not entirely equipped to meet. The cast of new characters adds exciting new dimensions to the different versions of London and their relationship with magic, as well as the ever-present questions of how to wield power responsibly. Shades of Magic has been a Booksweet reader favorite, along with Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, and The Fragile Threads of Power is a worthy addition.
Amazing Grace Adams by Fran Littlewood [preorder: September 5, 2023]
The harrowing story of a woman trying to deliver a cake across town for her daughter’s birthday. Grace Adams was destined for greatness – a champion linguist, a popular television presenter, a lifesaving swimmer – but somewhere along the line things went wrong. Now out of work, on the brink of divorce, and estranged from her daughter, Grace needs to do one simple thing to remind everyone, not least of all herself, who she really is, no matter the cost. The cost, it turns out, is absurdly high. But Grace’s biggest obstacle is the things she has refused to say, and the woman fluent in five languages will have to find the words to heal her relationships. A dark family dramedy with some spectacular cathartic moments.
The Insect Crisis by Oliver Millman
There’s a reason you’re seeing fewer bugs splat on your windshield these days, and it’s not great. Oliver Millman discusses the effects of climate change and other human interventions on insect populations worldwide, and what that will mean for biodiversity and the food chain in the near future. It’s a harrowing read, but there are also chapters full of hope, as Millman recounts efforts to save specific species as well as larger-scale realizations among industries and governments that long-held practices must change.
Museum of Human History by Rebekah Bergman
There’s a haunting intimacy to Rebekah Berman’s debut novel, which explores the lives of several characters in a small island town where a near-fatal accident left eight-year old Maeve Wilhelmin a coma – one that also somehow halted her aging for the next twenty-five years. The island is also home to a research facility that seems to have developed a cure for the outward signs of growing older, but not its other effects; as it turns out, though, taking the treatment has further unintended consequences. As the unconscious Maeve shifts from cautionary tale to object of worship to museum relic, her father and twin sister are among those struggling to adapt to the roles the tragedy has pushed them into. Museum of Human History is a beautiful meditation on time and technology, as well as the seemingly-random intersection of lives.
Raymond [9th grade] //
Wet Moon, vol 2
:: Content Warning: body negativity, violence ::
Our protagonist Cleo has a crush on a girl but her friend Tribley is making fun of her for it, making the crush out to be more mushy than it is. Tribley is also getting ripped on for liking Star Trek (everyone is making fun of her Trekkie tattoo). Cleo also gets into a fight at a concert and she feels bad about it–she’s been working hard to change her ways. Set in 2009, Wet Moon is a “slice of life” story about characters who are 19-25 and figuring out their life. I like this book’s art, character design and fashion, and true-to-life dialogue. Wet Moon is filled with LGBTQ characters without being corny (no stereotypes, no big “coming out” story). There are trans characters in this book and I like how casually they are included. I also really like the representation of a straight couple where the man in the couple is trans. Not everyone is friends, but everyone is accepting each other as people. This isn’t a middlegrade book (there’s smoking and sex but nothing is shown or graphic), but it’s good for high school and up.
August Blue by Deborah Levy
In this slim, lyrical read, Elsa, an ex-concert pianist is awakened to new possibilities for her life as she stumbles out into a newly opening, post-pandemic world. Her dying adoptive father, her friends and lovers, and her fleeting encounters with a mysterious doppelganger nudge her gently, like waves lapping on the shore, towards imagining a different future for herself. We’re all stumbling out of the darkest days of pandemic isolation, reborn in some sense. There’s something really powerful about witnessing this rebirth in Elsa, the ways change is made with both force and with grace. If you are looking for a book to transport you, the beautifully written scenes in this book are dazzling and transverse Athens, London, and Paris.
You Need to Lose Weight and 19 Other Myths About Fat People by Aubrey Gordon
I want to gift this to every femme in my life. We were raised in a toxic culture – and it is causing incredible harm. In this book, Gordon breaks down myths about fatness – including the racist, sexist origins of many medical terms (looking at you, BMI) – to dismantle the anti-fat bias that informs the treatment of fat people. This book is the “call in” that I didn’t know I needed and the perfect companion read alongside The Body is Not An Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor.
Migraine by Oliver Sacks
Regular debilitating migraines have been part of my life for the almost three decades and before this book, I can’t say that I actually understood them. Sacks examines the many different ways migraines manifest themselves in different people, including real life doctor’s notes of actual patients (identities redacted, of course), along with amazing artwork created by people who experience migraines depicting their experiences with migraine auras, visual disruptions, and hallucinations. Booksweet bookseller Zoe recommended this book to me and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn more about this strange bodily occurrence. Reading this book has helped me talk openly with my doctor about my migraine experiences and even find a bit of surprising peace with my migraines.
Stay True by Hua Hsu
Hua Hsu’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir is a poignant and fascinating reflection on identity-building, as 18-year-old Hua and his unlikely friend Ken are shaped in very different ways by the pop culture of the late ‘90s and their Asian American heritage. When Ken is killed in a carjacking while both young men are still in college, Hua Hsu further reflects on the forces that shaped each of their lives, how they shaped each other’s, and how his close friend’s death informs who Hua will become. Hsu’s book is elegantly written, and the passages where he communicates with his father in Taiwan over fax are especially moving.
How the Word is Passed by Clint Smith
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction as well as many other accolades, How the Word is Passed recounts Clint Smith’s experiences at several sites that hold significance to the history of slavery in the United States. Smith’s visits reveal the ways some former plantations are reckoning with their past, while others are decidedly not, and the author also explores lesser-known landmarks including the block near Wall Street where enslaved people were once bought and sold. Smith makes history personal, responding eloquently to all he sees and asking his guides difficult questions, as well as conducting interviews with his own grandparents about growing up Black in the Jim Crow South. This is an important and compelling read.
Dear Prudence by Daniel M. Lavery
Daniel Lavery has been one of my favorite humor writers since he co-founded the satire website The Toast (now sadly defunct), and his book of essays Something That May Shock and Discredit You is an incredibly thoughtful (and very funny) exploration of his trans identity through medieval literature, the Bible, and more. Dear Prudence is something else. For seven years, Lavery served as Slate.com’s advice columnist, taking on the “Prudence” persona that other writers had created and which now another writer has taken up. Prudence is, of course, filtered through Lavery’s personality, experience, and style, but Lavery is also filtered through Prudence, which reigns in some of his historical and literary references while simultaneously lending him the authority of a worldly, trusted aunt. This book is a collection of reader letters and their responses from Lavery’s tenure as Prudence, along with commentary on recurring themes and general guidance for better communication. Great for fans of over-the-top advice columns, Reddit AITA threads, and Lavery’s previous work.
How to Stay Productive When the World is Ending by Reductress
If you’re familiar with the online satirical site Reductress, you have a good idea what you’re in for here. If not, well, it’s a treat. In How to Stay Productive When the World is Ending, the Reductress writers take aim at the modern glamorization of over-work (“Meet the Woman Working a Job She Hates to Impress People She Doesn’t Respect”), remote work (“How to Make Your Home Workspace Safer”), generational differences on career outlook (a series of “Productivity Tips from Boomer Dad”), and what can best be described as “Other” (“How to Turn Your Home for Wayward Children Into a Content House,” “Should You Incorporate Your Polycule for Tax Purposes?”). Humor may not be a cure for grind culture, but it’s at least an amusing and relatable distraction.
Yellowface by R.F. Kuang
Best known for historical fantasies including Babel and the Poppy War series, here Kuang turns her attention to the modern-day publishing industry. June Hayward and Athena Liu are friends more out of circumstance than affection, coming up through the same prestigious writing program and both landing in Washington, DC after graduation. But while June struggles to get her writing career off the ground, Athena is an instant and stunning success. When a freak accident cuts Athena’s life short, though, June is there to pick up the pieces – or, rather, a complete draft manuscript of Athena’s next book. Now writing as Juniper Song, June rockets to fame on the strength of “her” World War I novel exploring the plight of Chinese laborers. Told from June/Juniper’s perspective, Yellowface is a dark, funny, and deeply uncomfortable novel about the world of books and the racism, both casual and direct, that pervades the industry.
Witch King by Martha Wells
Wells’ Murderbot series has been hugely popular with Booksweet’s sci-fi readers, so I was keen to check out this first book in a new series. Witch King is a fantasy epic full of political intrigue, revolving around a body-hopping demon prince named Kai and a cadre of trusted friends and uneasy allies accrued over his long life. While attempting to solve his own murder (he got better!), Kai discovers that the world is not quite as he left it – pacts that have held for centuries are fraying, his closest remaining kin are holding secrets. To make matters worse, Kai must balance the need to protect those who rely on him, rescue powerful allies gone missing, and mete out vengeance to those most deserving, all while getting used to an all-new body. Witch King shows all of Wells’ wit within a complex world of wizards, witches, and demons at war.
Twelve Caesars by Mary Beard
SPQR author Mary Beard turns her attention from the history of empire to the history of its artifacts, and how coins, sculpture, and paintings shaped our modern perceptions of ancient Rome. The name of Julius Caesar, Augustus, and Nero may call up strong images, but Beard’s interest is in how these images came down to use through the centuries – and why we should not be so confident in these emperor’s pictures of our mind’s eye. It’s a fascinating work of archaeological and art history.
Danger and Other Unknown Risks by Ryan North and Erica Henderson
The team behind the smart and delightful Unbeatable Squirrel Girl returns with an original graphic novel. Sorry guys, the world ended on Y2K – the laws of physics broke down and the world split into several regions with their own magical rules. Marguerite and her talking dog Daisy are on a quest to find three artifacts that might just set the world to rights – but the one spell she knows will only get her so far. North, whose other works include the “Choosable Path” Shakespeare books Romeo and/or Juliet and To Be or Not to Be, as well as the nonfiction How to Take Over the World, delights in challenging the assumptions of genre – the superhero Squirrel Girl frequently resolves conflicts without a fight, and protip: if you want the “good ending” in his Shakespeare books, do not kill anybody! – and here the heroic quest comes under scrutiny in ways great and small. Danger will be shelved with middlegrade graphic novels, but it’s a fantastic read for older teens and adults, as well. Basically anyone who likes fun.
Psyche and Eros by Luna McNamara
Pre-order now for June 13, 2023
Fans of Madeline Miller’s Circe will devour McNamara’s retelling of the epic love story of Psyche, the rambunctious, human warrior princess, and Eros, god of desire. I loved being whisked away by McNamara’s transportive language and getting to know legendary characters through her delightfully down-to-earth, dialogue-driven portrayals. This is a Greek myth with contemporary sensibilities and a pulsing human heart.
Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley
Perry Firekeeper-Birch brings the equity-minded, justice-oriented main character energy that we want and need in our lives. Refreshingly at home in her own skin, Perry loves fishing, her family, and her Ojibwe community on Sugar Island in the St. Marys River on the eastern tip of Michigan’s upper peninsula. A nuanced thriller centering the repatriation of Ojibwe objects from museums and private collections, the disappearance of indigenous women, and a murder mystery, Perry navigates an incredibly tumultuous summer while figuring out her own boundaries around when and if “the ends justify the means” in the pursuit of justice. I loved how voice-y, smart, thoughtful, honest, and funny Perry’s character is; it’s a joy to be with her throughout her personal growth in the book. A member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Boulley brings Anishinaabemowin / Ojibwemowin to the page and discusses issues facing Perry’s community on Sugar Island with care. Fans of Boulley’s Firekeeper’s Daughter will love meeting that story’s heroine, Daunis, as an adult, where she appears as a beloved Auntie to Perry, providing guidance, wisdom, and accountability to her beloved niece in this beautifully paced, immensely enjoyable book.
The Marvellers by Dhonielle Clayton
COO of the non-profit We Need Diverse Books and author of Booksweet reader YA favorites, The Belles series, Shattered Midnight, Blackout, and Tiny Pretty Things, Clayton makes her middlegrade debut with The Marvellers. This book brings all of the fantastical world-building that you want in a book about magic school with a genuinely diverse cast of characters hailing from across the globe and nurturing their own distinctive magical gifts. The Marvellers introduces readers to eleven-year-old Ella Durand, an eager student, an open-hearted friend, and the first of “her kind” of magical practitioner to attend the Arcanum Training Institute. As sweet as Ella is, she’s also a brave truth-seeker committed to fairness and inclusivity in her community. This book has just the right amount of tension for younger middlegrade readers–enough to keep readers engrossed but not so much that they’re scared to go to bed. The story also provides families with an opportunity to stay connected to the young readers in our lives, opening up conversations about bullying, “othering,” discrimination, and what it means to stand in your truth.
The second book in Clayton’s Marvellerverse, The Memory Thieves, comes out on September 26, 2023 and is available for preorder now.
Bea Wolf by Zach Weinersmith
This all-ages graphic novel is a complete and total joy. Take the epic, swashbuckling, J.R.R. Tolkien-inspiring energy of Beowulf and mix it up with the silly, freewheeling logic of Shel Silverstein and you have Bea Wolf. In Bea Wolf, a group of kids defend their right to sugar-fuelled, raucous treehouse parties against the treacherous Grindle, a boring, quiet-seeking adult neighbor with fun-zapping powers. The fight is led by none other than the powerful leader Bea Wolf, “a five-year-old, forged in sparkes and fury.” Weinersmith ditches Old English for this retelling in favor of a punchy alliterative style loaded up with delicious word riddles (or kennings, for the poets in the house). This language is made to be read aloud and shared, reminding us all that language is made to be played around with. I adored this book to bits.
The Great Transition by Nick Fuller Googins
Pre-order now for August 15, 2023
I read this after Shaun said, “please read this so I can talk with someone about it.” It was amazing. I have nothing to add to his book blurb (written in March, scroll down to take a peek), except for to say: I have never read anything quite like it. It’s written by a public school educator with a deep and sustained background in environmental justice movements. The author essentially gifts readers with a playbook for surviving the anthropocene, but delivers it through a kidnapping thriller peppered through with touching portraits of intergenerational trauma and a teen navigating the need to control her disordered world through disordered eating. There’s a lot of tension–and a lot of heart.
Finally Seen by Kelly Yang
A sweet story of ten-year-old Lina Gao joining her family in the United States after having stayed in China with her grandmother for the past five years. Lina struggles to adjust to a school where she barely speaks the language and a family she hardly recognizes – her little sister was a baby the last time Lina saw her, and her parents’ careers are not quite as they’d been portrayed in letters and phone calls. Yang draws on her own immigration experience for a heartfelt journey that will resonate with anyone who’s ever not quite fit in.
Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond
Desmond offers a compelling and readily accessible exploration of the causes of poverty in the United States, poverty’s effects on families, and the biases and decisions that continue to obstruct efforts at a meaningful solution. Despite everything, there is hope within these pages, and a vision for the future we must have the courage to make real.
The Great Transition by Nick Fuller Googins
Pre-order now for August 15, 2023
A generation after climate catastrophe, humankind has united to rehabilitate the Earth, putting in the necessary effort to heal devastated biomes and build sustainable cities at the poles in what became known as the Transition. But some fear the lessons of recent history are already being forgotten, and that those most responsible for the devastation need to be held accountable. Emi Vargas’s parents Larch and Kristina are heroes of the Transition, but during Zero Day celebrations – marking the date Earth achieved zero emissions – her mother vanishes amidst global attacks targeting “climate criminals,” leading Emi and her father on a rescue mission that will uncover deep-seated family secrets. This story of a family divided raises difficult questions about accountability and justice, avoiding easy answers even as it offers a dire warning and points an accusing finger at the “destroying classes” currently taking our world to the brink of disaster.
The Curator by Owen King
In a city nicknamed The Fairest, set within a vaguely 19th-century European nation, a revolution has just unseated a tyrannical regime. But as time passes, what they have won, and what the victorious rebels will do with it, has grown less clear, and the public are growing restless. Into this comes Dora, a domestic worker before the revolution who has finagled a residence in, and responsibility for, the derelict Museum of the Worker. Dora’s quest to uncover the truth about her brother’s death many years before – as well as what may have come after – takes her on a journey through the still-unsettled city, ultimately confronting an adversary even more vicious than the human butcher at the museum next door.
Novelist as a Vocation by Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami’s reflections on his own life as a novelist over the course of thirty years should prove charming and inspirational for aspiring authors. Murakami discusses how his work as a translator interweaves with his creative work, his daily writing habits, and why he’s happy he didn’t win a certain major award. He’s very tentative about offering any concrete advice – “that’s how it seems to me, anyway” or some variation is a recurring phrase – but nevertheless his portrayal of a successful author with an enduring career contains a lot of lessons for those aspiring to the vocation.
Hula by Jasmin Lolani Hakes
Pre-order now for May 2, 2023
Set in Hilo, Hawai’i, this is a story about three generations of women from the Naupaka family, renowned for their hula abilities. When the pride of the family, Laka, leaves the Big Island when she becomes pregnant a rift is opened between Laka and her mother Hulali that takes generations to unpack and heal. At the center of the rift: Laka’s daughter Hi‘i, who has pale skin, red hair, and green eyes, threatening the family’s claim to their land, per the U.S. government’s blood quantum policies. While the story centers the Naupaka family, Hula is ultimately about a deep yearning to belong: to our families and for the contemporary members of the occupied Hawaiian Kingdom, to the land. I loved the unhurried pace of this story, lingering on the most tender parts of a family’s history to truly understand the repair needed. Hakes weaves together Hawaiian folklore, the past and present day colonization of the islands, and the most glorious sense of place as vital components of this family saga. It was a beautiful, richly developed debut — I’m looking forward to more from Jasmin Lolani Hakes.
The Apology by Jimin Han
Pre-order now for August 1, 2023
This is a story about a 105-year-old South Korean woman named Jeonga Cha trying to mend some of the trauma she caused in the name of “upholding the family name” before she dies, only to experience death and continue her attempts as a ghost. Over the course of the book, Jeonga unlearns the deeply entrenched value of “keeping up appearances” to bring her family the healing it needs. I can’t remember ever having read a book that centers an elder in this particular way. I loved spending time with Jeonga, learning from her experiences of aging and her joys of self-care, her bickering and beefs, her softness and humor, her opinions and her questions. Han’s careful rendering of Jeonga brings readers into the character’s history (taking us back to the days of Japanese colonialism and the Korean war) without getting lost in it. Rather, Jeonga leverages her past experiences as she lives, learns, and grows in the present and makes plans for the future.
Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr
Way back in September 2021, Shaun blurbed this National Book Award finalist by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anthony Doerr. What more can I add about this epic story of connection and unexpected optimism? Just that it’s out in paperback now, I finally got around to reading it, and I LOVED it. Readers: you’re going to be presented with a lot of seemingly unrelated story threads at the beginning of this book. I invite you to let go of the need to do any sense-making of how they relate and just enjoy the gorgeous language and characters. Trust that Doerr will take you where you need to go and enjoy the ride. This book has one of the most satisfying endings that I’ve enjoyed in a while. Chef’s kiss.
The World We Make by N.K. Jemisin
Book #2 in the Great Cities Duology // Book #1: The City We Became
Before N.K. Jemisin was a four-time Hugo Award-Winning author, she was a counseling psychologist. I love this fun fact because it feels like a glimpse into her ability to tap into a character’s deepest desires, choices, motivations, and relationship dynamics with complete fluency and grace. In the Great Cities duology, Jemisin brings the soul of her city to life, with each of the boroughs of New York embodied by individuals who are suddenly granted access to their neighborhood’s bespoke magic, energy, and power. The borough’s work together (and at odds with one another… looking at you, Staten Island) to defeat The Woman in White (aka “Squigglebitch”), an ambassador for universal homogeneity who uses her ghostly tentacles to energize xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, racist people to do her bidding, unified under the dogma “Make New York Great Again.” While readers had been expecting a Great Cities Trilogy, this book is the final in the series (readers can check out Jemisin’s remarkably vulnerable and touching acknowledgements at the back of the book to find out why). Despite its heavy themes, Jemisin’s characters are a joy to be with. Their magic is a wild ride and a ton of fun.
I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai
Successful podcaster Bodie Kane returns to boarding school of her youth to teach short between-term courses, leading her to reflect on the circumstances of her roommate’s murder during their junior year. As one of her podcasting students takes up the crime as a class project, Bodie begins to wonder whether an offhand comment she made during the police investigation may have sent the wrong man to prison – and whether the questions that were never asked might have instead implicated theatre teacher Dennis Bloch, to whom Bodie addresses her story. Makkai’s book explores the myriad ways young women and girls are exploited, and how both personal growth and changing societal attitudes alter how individuals view their own past.
After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz
Longlisted for the Book Prize, After Sappho is a lyrical novel in vignettes covering the history of women, literature, and women’s literature as embodied in the early twentieth century figures Rina Faccio, Romaine Brooks, and Virginia Woolf as they cast off names and identities that no longer suited them in order to simply exist as themselves. After Sappho is Schwartz’ first novel, but dance and theatre scholars on campus may also be interested in her previous book, The Bodies of Others: Drag Dances and Their Afterlives, published in 2019 by the University of Michigan Press.
History Smashers: Christopher Columbus and the Taino People by Kate Messner, Jose Barreiro, and Falynn Koch [preorder: August 8]
I love the History Smashers series, which blend text and comics to make accessible the “real” history many of us were and continue to be denied in school. I appreciate not only the debunking of Columbus’s myths but also the focus on the Taino people.
Crook Manifesto by Colson Whitehead [preorder: July 18]
I’m always excited for a new Colson Whitehead book. Continuing the adventures of Harlem Shuffle’s striving furniture salesman and petty criminal Ray Carney, Crook Manifesto is the best kind of sequel, as the stakes are raised in ways that are both over the top and wholly believable. As the story begins, Carney is retired from the shadier side of his business, but is soon swept up in the powerful cultural tides of 1970s Harlem. Who knew Jackson 5 concert tickets could lead to so much trouble!
Our Share of Night by Marina Enriquez
Twitching with the vivid details of horror, this witchy escape into the gruesome world of Argentinian occultists introduces us to Gaspar and his dad Juan, a medium under the service of Gaspar’s wealthy maternal grandparents. Juan has the power to unlock and channel “The Darkness,” fueling and cementing his in-law’s power and fortune. Before his powers drive him to madness and death, Juan tries to protect Gaspar from inheriting his powers (sure to be exploited in terrible ways), but Juan’s secretive approach causes an ugly and often violent strain on the relationship. This book is intense and nuanced, weaving together some truly demented creepy stuff, Gaspar’s difficult coming-of-age story, and the complex heartbreaks only family knows how to make. This was an escape read for me but like any good page-turning horror, I often left a chapter gasping for air.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
I revisited this book as part of the 2023 Washtenaw Reads program and I’m so glad that I did. I love spending time with Emira Tucker, a 25-year-old babysitter who–at the very top of the story–is accused of kidnapping the white toddler that she sits for while exploring the nut aisle of the local grocery store. While this is a story of race, privilege, and power, it’s also so incredible at holding space for the intensely awkward moments in life, especially through dialogue. There are a lot of “cringe moments” in this book and Emira takes stock of it all and moves forward with heart. Even reading this for a second time, I had a hard time putting this book down. I spoke out loud to its characters (“ugh!” “nooo!” “what?” “gross!”). I felt a bond to it, wanting it with me through my day to see what happens next, and next, and next for Emira as she comes into her own, on her own terms.
Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin
You don’t need me to tell you that one of the most critically acclaimed books of the 20th century is an absolute stunner. Instead, I’ll offer some brief thoughts about how readers may (or may not) encounter Baldwin in U.S. public high schools. In the 60s and 70s, it was common to encounter James Baldwin within the context of a public high school education. During the 1980s, the book experienced challenges and bans. By the time I got to high school in the mid-90s, I don’t remember reading Baldwin at all. Instead, we read a steady diet of white male perspectives on existentialism. My lifelong reading journey has been informed by a deep need to read what wasn’t taught in school. I know I’m not alone in this kind of remediation. Aside from the joy of a breathtaking book, “backfilling” my education in this way helps me see the specifics of why and how curricular shifts occur–and the many impacts that this kind of educational deprivation can have on a person, on a community, and on our society. This is especially true in our current era of book bans that primarily focus on marginalized authors writing about their experiences. Relatedly: Go Tell It On the Mountain is a semi-autobiographical novel. This is not a new game book banners are playing, they just have the internet now so their agenda spreads quicker than it did in the 80s. To dive deep into the topic of book bans, challenges, and access (and find in-roads to advocacy!), join us for our next Banned Book Club session.
Even if you were lucky enough to encounter Go Tell It On the Mountain as a 9th grader, it’s likely worth a revisit with adult eyes and no deadlines. This is a demanding read. There are non-linear narratives that criss-cross time, radical perspective shifts, heavy servings of religious shame, and a truly toxic stepdad. There’s also transcendent poetry, structural genius, incredible dialogue, and characters who will live with you forever. Baldwin’s work invests fully in all the ways the past bleeds through to our present, connecting our fates and futures to one another in every way imaginable.
For those interested in diving deep into the work of James Baldwin, here are a few links that we shared as part of our 2/17 Booksweet Book Dive conversation led by U-M PhD candidate, LaTara McLemore:
VIDEOS: James Baldwin Debates William F. Buckley (1965) // Why Did the FBI Spy on James Baldwin?
PODCAST: James Baldwin’s Fire – NPR’s Throughline
ARTICLES: An Introduction to James Baldwin //James Baldwin: The Last Interview by Richard Goldstein //Additional context from Lambda Literary
BOOKS: Explore other books by and about James Baldwin at Booksweet
Illuminations by Alan Moore
Moore’s best-known works — among them the graphic novels Watchmen with artist Dave Gibbons, V for Vendetta with David Lloyd, and From Hell with Eddie Campbell — have earned him a reputation as an incredible mind with a penchant for exploring the darkest niches of the human psyche. His first prose collection kicks off with a short story in this vein. But readers unfamiliar with Moore’s broader work, like the farcical Bojeffries Saga, may be surprised to learn that he is also very, very funny, and most of the stories in Illuminations hew closer to this track. “Location, Location, Location,” set in the immediate aftermath of the Biblical Book of Revelation, finds the last real estate agent on Earth showing a Silicon Valley-styled Jesus Christ around His new home. Meanwhile, most of the volume is taken up by “What We Can Know About Thunderman,” a delightful satire of the American comics industry from its origins to the present. The story itself is wild, but sliding a 240-page novella into an ostensible collection of short stories is also just an extremely amusing thing to do. Illuminations will be a treat for fans of Moore’s work, but should also appeal to fans of Terry Pratchett.
How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix
Siblings Louise and Mark haven’t spoken in years, but are forced together to sort out their parents’ estate when their mother and father die in a car crash near their home. Louise wants to handle her parents’ legacy responsibly, but Mark wants to clear everything in their house into the junkyard, especially their mother’s extensive collection of creepy dolls and taxidermy nativities. Hendrix once again offers his witty spin on familiar horror tropes to provide surprising insights into family dynamics.
Everyone in My Family has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson
Ernest Cunningham knows the rules of a good mystery novel, and promises to be a “reliable narrator.” Ern also comes from a family of criminals, and by the end of the novel, a family of killers. Three years after Ern gave testimony that sent his brother Michael to prison, the entire extended Cunningham family is gathering at a remote ski resort reunion to welcome Michael back into the fold. But with the discovery of a mysterious stranger’s lifeless body and cascading revelations about the Cunninghams’ shared past, it falls to the outcast Ern to protect his family, even from themselves.
Promise Boys by Nick Brooks
Urban Promise Prep School is praised for keeping the young men in its charge on the straight and narrow, but when its founder and principal is found murdered on school grounds, suspicion immediately falls on three students. J.B., Ramón, and Trey all tussled with Principal Moore the day of the shooting, and all had found ways to ditch their assigned detention which would have otherwise provided an alibi. Each student attests to his own innocence in alternating narrated chapters, careful to cast blame on the others while concealing details that would show themselves in a negative light. In the end, Principal Moore’s death uncovers the darker side of education reform as well as what –or who– is sacrificed to project success. Great for fans of Angie Thomas and Karen McManus.
Bad Cree by Jessica Johns
This book is an indigenous horror story that’s as much about the wendigo, the evil spirit that preys on and fuels insatiable greed, as it is a love letter to the fierce love of aunties, friends, siblings, and family. With great dialogue, characters who you’ll want to befriend, and gruesomely rendered scary stuff, I completely loved this book and I left it feeling inspired to give horror a try more often.
Ghost Music by An Yu
Yu’s story begins with the marriage of piano teacher Song Yan and BMW executive Bowen, disintegrating in real-time in-front of Bowen’s mom, who’s just moved into their Beijing apartment. As the couple acclimates to their new roomie, a mysterious mushroom delivery starts arriving daily, ushering in an era where everyday magic, conversations with ghosts, and talking mushrooms become the norm for Song Yan. This book is a stunner, with surreal surprises tucked neatly, expertly into every chapter.
The Call of the Wrens by Jenni L. Walsh
This is a tale of the Wrens, female members of the Royal Naval Service who served as motorcycle dispatch riders. Told in two narratives that criss-cross time, from WWI to WWII, Call of the Wrens offers a glimpse into the adventuresome lives of women determined to chart their own course, of the friendships that sustained them, and of the losses that reshape family and self.
Flamer by Mike Curato
:: cw – suicidal ideation ::
In the fall of 2022, the librarians, teachers, and students of the Dearborn Public Schools faced challenges fulled by anti LGBTQIA+ rhetoric to a number of books in the Dearborn Public School library, including Mike Curato’s graphic novel Flamer. Set at a scouting camp in the 90s, Flamer‘s protagonist Aiden feels at home in the great outdoors but still feels at times like an outsider. Through aggressions both micro and macro, Aiden is bullied for being overweight, biracial, and queer. A difficult story told with humor, compassion, and an incredible memory for the specifics of casual teenage hate speech, Curato extends a hand to queer kids who might be feeling alone, offering a critical message: You are wonderful. You are loved. And you’re going to be okay.
Interested in joining fellow community members in explorations and advocacy around book bans and challenges in U.S. public schools and libraries? Teens and adults are invited to join us for Banned Book Club! Season two of the club starts on February 10 with a discussion of What the Fact? Finding the Truth in All the Noise by Dr. Seema Yasmin.