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 2024
Curious to explore our favorite reads of 2023? We’ve got you covered.
Across So Many Seas by Ruth Behar
Spanning 500 years and four generations, Behar’s latest middlegrade book explores the life of a Sephardic Jewish family, tracing their history from forced exile from Spain during the Spanish Inquisition to their resettlement in Istanbul to their forced exile to Cuba and finally, their exodus to Miami. I really appreciate the kid-centered way that Behar brings middlegrade readers into new understandings about anti-semitism across the globe and throughout history. Skillfully, Behar tells the Toledo family’s story from the perspective of four 12-year-old girls: Benvenida in 1492, Reina in 1923, Alegra in 1961, and Paloma in 2003. In addition to her work as an author of children’s literature, Behar is a Cuban-American anthropologist and professor at the University of Michigan. With poetic grace and heart, Behar brings her scholarship to young readers and invites them to consider the many forces, internal and external, that come together to shape our families.
We are so proud and honored to have Ruth as part of Booksweet’s School Author Visit program; we hope that your students have the opportunity to meet her. If you’d like to learn more about how to make that happen, please get in touch! Ruth has picture books and middlegrade titles available, serving youth readers ages 4-10+.
The Reformatory by Tananarive Due
CW: child abuse.
You might not expect to find hope, friendship, or freedom in a haunted reform school for boys in the Jim Crow south, but that’s exactly what author Tananarive Due, daughter of civil rights activists Patricia Stephens Due and John Due, brings to the page. The Reformatory is set in the Gracetown School for Boys and based on the Dozier School, a reform school in Florida that operated from 1900 to 2011 and gained a widely known reputation for abuse, beatings, rapes, torture, and murder of students by staff. Due’s great uncle died at the Dozier School in 1937 and her research into the place is personal, haunting, and renders the setting and its inhabitants with cinematic vividness. In addition to the school’s staff, its sociopathic headmaster, and its incarcerated children, the school is occupied by haints, the spirits of those who’ve died at the school. Some of the living can see the haints more clearly than others–and 12-year-old Robert not only sees haints, but comes to befriend and understand them. While Robert’s sister and extended family work furiously on the outside to try to free Robert, he relies on his friendships with both the living and the dead to negotiate his way through a living hell and pave a path of freedom for all. This story is shelved in our horror section–Due is a masterful writer of the supernatural–but it’s also something that lovers of historical fiction and literary fiction will connect with: Think Whitehead’s Nickel Boys meets Morrison’s Beloved. This book is legitimately terrifying but Due fights for her characters with a powerful and palpable love, bringing them the respect, dignity, and freedom they deserve.
Wandering Stars by Tommy Orange
CW: substance abuse.
Remember Orvil, the Cheyenne teen who learned traditional dance through YouTube in Orange’s 2018 debut, There, There? In Orange’s Wandering Stars, we’re brought more deeply into Orvil’s life, alongside members of his family: younger brother Lony, their caregiver Opal, and their grandmother Jacquie. Set in both the aftermath of a 2018 powwow shooting and also in aftermath of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre, Orange explores the ways members of the Bear Shield-Red Feather family have survived genocide at the hands of the U.S. government, each seeking for a way to cope with the past and the sickening whitewashed reality of their present. The characters seek healing and distraction from having survived imprisonment, boarding schools, and the violence of contemporary life through home-grown ritual, writing, music, long walks, and substance use. Family members each dealing with their own need to heal are present with one another in the ways they are best able to be, but the care is sometimes fractured as each tends to their own wounds. Kirkus offers that this book is a “searing study of the consequences of a genocide,” with many reviewers riffing on this idea. And while that’s absolutely present in this book, there’s also a raw hope and optimism present, in the way that only characters pulsing with life and individuality can bring to the page. Another “book industry” note: This book is often framed as a “follow-up,” but I strongly believe that it functions as a prequel, sequel, or stand-alone. If you’ve not yet read There, There, don’t let that become a deterrent from diving into Wandering Stars. This is intergenerational storytelling at its finest.
A personal note about this book’s depictions of substance use: As a reader, I generally have a really difficult time reading narratives involving addiction. There’s oftentimes a moralizing or fatalistic tone that strips characters of their identities, autonomy, and humanity. But for those of us who’ve loved someone deeply who has a history of substance abuse, it always rings engagingly false. While substance abuse obscures the person we love, we still see who they are. We love them, grieve them, miss them, cherish them, and see a path to healing. Orange clearly understands this and when he writes about addiction, he does so with sensitivity and care for both the person experiencing addiction and to those who love that person. He reminds us that relapse is part of recovery. And he makes space–painful, but necessary space–for his character’s recovery to actually occur.
Interesting Facts About Space by Emily Austin
Despite having little that is directly in common with Enid, Emily Austin’s point-of-view character for Interesting Facts About Space, I intensely identified with the way she moves through her environment and the way she copes with hardships, and also recognize so much of myself, my friends, and loved ones in her. In short, she is the most relatable character I have encountered in ages. Enid is a neurodivergent, partially deaf young woman with a phobia of bald men, navigating two extraordinarily complex relationships, one with two half-sisters she barely knows and another with a woman whose wife Enid hooked up with on a dating app. She also believes two things she can’t quite confirm or disprove: one, that she is a bad person, and two, that someone has been following her and may have broken into her apartment. Enid might turn to her mother for comfort, but rather than tell her mom what’s on her mind Enid instead shares interesting facts about space. This novel is consistently funny and frequently devastating, often within the same sentence. Readers who enjoyed Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow will recognize the energy in Austin’s book.
Cahokia Jazz by Francis Spufford
Spufford’s latest is a hard-boiled detective novel set in an alternate history in which the city of Cahokia joined the United States as a state led and governed by its majority-Indigenous population. Detective Joe Barrow, a huge and imposing man, appears to everyone he meets as a takouma, a person native to the North American continent. But having been raised in a South Carolina boarding school, he does not know the language or customs. Meanwhile, his takate (white) partner and war buddy is slick enough to make his way through just about any situation. When a brutal murder threatens to Cahokia’s long-simmering racial tensions aflame, Barrow must navigate obscure political dynasties, powerful bootleggers, federal agents, and the Ku Klux Klan to catch a killer and save the city.
King Nyx by Kirsten Bakis
Preorder: Feb 27, 2024
In King Nyx, Bakis weaves a gothic tale giving agency to a woman whom history has dismissed as a background character. Anna Fort accompanies her husband Charles to a secluded island, where he has been invited by a wealthy eccentric in order to complete his book on unexplained phenomena. Almost immediately, their situation takes a turn for the sinister, and Anna must confront a trauma she’s worked hard to forget, a tragedy years before when she was a maid in Charles’ family’s estate, one involving a lost friend and blood falling from a clear blue sky. The real-life Charles Fort and his skepticism about the bounds of scientific knowledge was hugely influential in the development of “the paranormal” as a concept, and inspired any number of sci-fi writers – he is believed to have coined the term “teleportation,” and the Fortean Times is named for him. But Bakis is interested in the woman who supported him throughout his career and followed him down often ludicrous-sounding trains of thought. The Anna of King Nyx isn’t invested in Charles’ theories but loves him and wants him to succeed; what he wants for her is more placid. Though this episode Anna’s life is wholly Bakis’s invention, the Forts’ relationship and interpersonal dynamic feels very real.
The Fox Wife by Yangsze Choo
Preorder: Feb 13, 2024
Fox spirits forever change the lives of those they touch; when unexpected circumstances bring together three fox spirits with their own tangled history, the human family accompanying their journey find themselves in the midst of truly momentous events. The Fox Wife is divided between two narrators: Snow, a fox spirit searching for the man she holds responsible for the death of her child, and Bao, a man who from a young age has been able to sense the lie as it leaves a speaker’s lips. Snow’s cleverness and Bao’s deliberate attention to his own words as well as those of others complement this story of mythical beings with a fairy-tail rhythm and logic, as curses are incurred or broken, schemes are hatched and plots dashed, as something lost is found again. It’s a sweet story with a bit of bite, for readers of Strange Beasts of China and The Book of Goose.
Lunar New Year Love Story, a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang and LeUyen Pham
This is a gentle love story with a ton of heart, gorgeous illustrations, and a smart and searching main character that you’ll be rooting for from page one. Oh yeah: there’s also awesome Lion Dancing, a cool and sassy grandma, the ghost of St. Valentine, family secrets, crushes and new relationships, the evolution of friendships during high school, and the messy confusing heartache of adolescence. For fans of Heartstopper, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, Bloom, and of course Gene Luen Yang’s other amazing titles (especially American Born Chinese): this tender little coming-of-age tale is a gem. It is a love story. It is very YA. And it is absolutely for everyone in need of a bit of life affirming sweetness. This title is a newcomer to our Lunar New Year reading list as well as our Seasonal Depression Toolkit reading list.
The Djinn Waits a Hundred Years by Shubnum Khan
This book was a trip! Part ghost story and part mystery, this book is billed as a “literary gothic coming-of-age novel.” Set in Durban, South Africa, a coastal town with one of the largest ethnically Indian-populated cities outside of India, this is the kind of book that totally transports you to another place. Set in a sprawling, run-down haunted mansion sectioned off into apartments, the story is peppered with memorable neighbors (a prized parrot, a gardner who is allergic to the sun, a cranky elder with a chip on her shoulder) and stars a winsome protagonist, 15-year-old Sana, who engages in good old fashioned teenaged sleuthing all while being haunted by her previously conjoined twin. Sana seeks to uncover the story of the ghosts that haunt the building–and Khan’s writing juggles two timelines and two casts with precision and grace. I had a great time with this book. Fans of basically anything off our This House Is Alive reading list (especially Starling House) and… dare I say An Orchestra of Minorities (vibe wise, especially when it comes to the reverent yet matter-of-fact handling of the metaphysical in the everyday world) will love this book.
Anita de Monte Laughs Last by Xochitl Gonzalez
Preorder:March 5, 2024
Apparently all I’m in the mood for right now is ghost stories. This one I picked up though, not for the haunts, but because (like many Booksweet readers!) I really enjoyed Gonzalez’s 2022 release, Olga Dies Dreaming. In Gonzalez’s latest, we meet two brilliant and creative young Latina women: Anita de Monte, a rising star in the art world circa 1985, and Raquel, a third-year art history student circa 1998. Both women feel like outsiders in the artworld, dominated as it was by a white, eurocentric, patriarchal, exclusionary world view. While Anita is murdered before she can leave a major mark on the art world, her ghost lives on and flourishes under the attention and care of Raquel. Together, the women joyfully reclaim their rightful place in the art world: center stage and celebrated. One of my favorite aspects of Olga Dies Dreaming was Gonzalez’s ability to fold powerful social commentary seamlessly into a big-hearted narrative with a lovable protagonist. Anita de Monte Laughs Last is no different, making both books great picks for book clubs or reading buddies to dive into together. (Psst: this seems like a good spot to link to a little reminder about Booksweet’s discounts for book clubs.)
The Waters by Bonnie Jo Campbell
Set in rural Michigan, on a fictional island in the Great Massasauga Swamp near the small town of Whiteheart, a natural healer named Hermine Zook (known to all as “Herself” and rumored to be a witch) reigns supreme with her three daughters. All have flown the claustrophobic nest, except Herself’s 11-year-old granddaughter Donkey, who narrates the tale. This is a restless story of family secrets, seclusion, and family longing, with all sensemaking filtered through the kid-logic of Donkey. Herself keeps Donkey from school and from the “devil doctors,” and men aren’t allowed on the island. When Donkey’s mother Rosie Thorn returns to the island, Donkey’s world, worries, and wonders are wedged open a bit further as the family learns to trust one another again and to find true healing. I really appreciated the slow, nuanced, and personal look at how complex topics like abortion care, personal freedom, and gun control take shape in the actual lived experiences and lives of the residents of Whiteheart. The characters and setting are vivid and the writing is stunning on a sentence-level. If you’re not already a fan of Michigan author Bonnie Jo Campbell, but you love Barbara Kingsolver and/or Tara Westover’s memoir Educated, you’ll likely find a new author to love in Bonnie. I listened to The Waters on audiobook through our partners at Libro.fm, read by the amazing actress, Lili Taylor. I can’t imagine this story with any other reader: it was perfect.