What’s it about: A former hockey player struggling to keep it together find his life interrupted when his younger sister comes home years after disappearing. The siblings wrestle with violence and addiction, family and identity, and a constant sense of alienation.
What made me pick it up: I love Jeff Lemire.
My favorite things: I can’t remember where I read it, but someone described this as Fargo but in Canada and I can’t think of a better way to describe the cold, bleak tone. As always, Lemire’s art is stunning and perfectly fits the mood of the dark story and complex characters.
Who it’s great for: Fans of Lemire’s other work, particularly Essex County. Graphic novel readers looking for a family drama.
What’s it about: A quick guide to avoiding implicating yourself in criminal activity while talking to the police. Tl;dr don’t talk to the police. No really, don’t.
What made me pick it up: It is very short and the title intrigued me.
My favorite things: Duane tries to balance every critique of police interrogation techniques with positive words about their work. He doesn’t identify the police as a problem, but rather insists that they are very good at finding evidence – even when it implicates innocent people. Duane also offers very specific advice on what you do have to tell the police and when and how to effectively demand to speak with a lawyer.
Who it’s great for: Anyone curious about what you actually have to tell the police. A good primer for anyone worried about dealing with the police
What’s it about: In a near-future dystopian United States, Hannah has been subjected to chroming – her skin genetically altered to bright red – to publicly indicate her guilt as a violent felon in a society that has moved quickly toward a theocracy.
What made me pick it up: I’d heard that this was a modern-day Scarlet Letter with a strong Handmaid’s Tale feel, which was impossible to resist.
My favorite things: While the latter part of the book didn’t wow me, the opening and the premise are nearly perfect. Jordan creates a complex main character who wrestles with her own values as she moves away from a total acceptance of the righteous and utterly restrictive laws that rule much of the country. Though she is in a world where religious moralism reigns supreme and bodily autonomy doesn’t exist, her struggle to find peace with herself and her actions gives hope in a time of what feels like insurmountable tension and divisiveness.
Who it’s great for: Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale, Naomi Alderman’s The Power, and other dystopian stories with a strong feminist bent.
What’s it about: A collection of short stories featuring queer and trans teens by queer and trans writers. The stories span the gamut from fantasy to historical fiction, folklore to realistic stories.
What made me pick it up: I put this on hold as soon as I saw that Malinda Lo contributed a story to this collection.
My favorite things: I love that this collection celebrates a variety of LGBTQ experiences and that in these stories a queer identity doesn’t necessarily mean pain or struggle in the way that common in many books. The stories are short but the emotions are intense! There is enough wildly varying content that there is something for everyone in this collection.
Who it’s great for: Teens and adults looking for engaging stories with well-developed characters.
What’s it about: A child’s account of surviving and escaping the ongoing war in Syria.
What made me pick it up: Bana Alabed’s pleas for peace and assistance reached the world through Twitter, but I knew her book would tell a more complete story.
My favorite things: Bana’s clear voice is heartwrenching, a reminder to care for refugees. Her mother, Fatemah, includes essays written for Bana, explaining her point of view and her experiences. Their words in concert with each other serve to humanize the numbers and news reports and give a personal story to the images of Syrian children that have circulated widely.
Who it’s great for: Adults and teens trying to understand the war in Syria. Readers who to understand what the day to day struggle is like in the Syrian Civil War, and those wanting to build empathy for refugees.
What’s it about: A graphic novel about a black teenage boy who is shot and killed by a police officer who mistook the hanger in his hand for a gun. The story follows his friends and family in the aftermath of his death and his own journey as those who have previously lost their lives to police violence lead him through the process of understanding and accepting his death.
What made me pick it up: A colleague put this on hold for me because she thought I was probably going to read it anyway.
My favorite things: Alfonso Jones is shot on the first page, but his story doesn’t end there. I love that we still get insight into his life and that the authors take the time to remember the details of the lives lost to police violence like Amadou Diallo and Anthony Baez. There’s an interesting juxtaposition I haven’t seen in fiction before between police treatment of black and brown men who haven’t committed violent crimes and that of typically white school shooters.
Who it’s great for: A good read for teens and adults looking to understand the motive for the Movement for Black Lives. Good for fans of The Hate U Give, Dear Martin, and March.
What’s it about: A collection of 40 brief biographies of Black women who have made significant contributions throughout US history, geared toward children and complete with charming illustrations of each woman.
What made me pick it up: I couldn’t not pick it up.
My favorite things: I love the variety of women profiled! There are women from early US history, those alive and achieving today, and those from all the time in-between. Harrison includes women who were pioneers in science, education, law, activism, athletics, and the arts among others. Each biography is long enough to learn about each woman’s life and work, but still short enough to fit on one page so you can easily read a few at a time. I learned a lot!
Who it’s great for: Readers looking for inspiring stories of Black women’s achievements. Young readers of all identities and backgrounds looking for strong role models. Fans of Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky
What’s it about: Horatia offers to take the place of her reluctant sister as a wife to the Earl of Rule, who accepts with little convincing. Each agreeing not to interfere with the other, theirs truly is a marriage of convenience – he marries into the family he desired while she marries into wealth and access to all the best parties.
What made me pick it up: I set a few reading resolutions this year. One was to read in a few genres I don’t tend to prefer, including romance. A colleague suggested Georgette Heyer because she thought I’d like her spunky heroines.
My favorite things: Spunky indeed! I loved Horatia’s character. She is fearless, outgoing, and very clever – though not quite as clever as she thinks. Her charming stubbornness is softened by her willingness to admit and learn from her mistakes. She is well aware of and completely unbothered by the fact that she doesn’t meet anybody’s beauty standards – cursed by straight eyebrows.
Who it’s great for: Fans of historical romances with more focus on a strong female lead than on the romance itself.
What’s it about: In the near future when climate change has made winter a memory and evolution seems to be reversing, pregnant Cedar Songmaker connects with her biological family seeking answers about her origin. Her life and autonomy are put at risk in a society increasingly obsessed with protecting the human race by controlling reproduction.
What made me pick it up: I’ve never read Louise Erdrich before even though she’s been on my TBR list for years, so I decided to start with her newest release.
My favorite things: I didn’t really know anything about this book going in, knowing only that Erdrich is known to write mostly literary fiction featuring native characters. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I’d picked up her foray into dystopian and somewhat speculative fiction – one of my favorite areas to read. She does an incredible job of exploring themes of spirituality, identity, family, and resilience in the context of societal collapse.