What’s it about: An exploration of identity, community, and meaning-making in contemporary Native life. Told through multiple perspectives, there is a focus on what it means to be, as Orange describes, an Urban Indian when the rest of the world believes the American Indian story exists only on reservations and in history books.
What made me pick it up: I read a few promising blurbs. It also has a page count under 300 and my attention span is short right now.
My favorite things: I tend to love stories told from multiple perspectives, and Orange does an incredible job of tying all of his varied characters’ lives together. He also brings in his own identity as an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma to inform his characters’ experiences.
Who it’s great for: People interested in contemporary Native American voices and experiences and readers of stories that complicate our understanding of identity and the world.
What’s it about: A graphic novel adaptation of Laurie Halse Anderson’s 1999 young adult novel of surviving and struggling with the trauma of sexual assault.
What made me pick it up: I almost didn’t pick this up because the original novel was so devastating, but when I realized Emily Carroll (creator of Through the Woods) was the illustrator it I knew I couldn’t pass on it.
My favorite things: I appreciate that the story has been updated to be current and relatable to today’s readers. The graphic novel format centers and celebrates the importance of art in Melinda’s survival and recovery. For me, it was a relief that even though it is difficult to get through this was less devastating than the original novel.
Who it’s great for: Adults and teens grappling with understanding the continuing emotional and psychological toll sexual assault can take on survivors.
What’s it about: Brooklyn teen Sierra Santiago’s summer vacation is interrupted by weeping street murals, family secrets, and a kind of magic that links the world of the living with that of the dead.
What made me pick it up: I remember seeing good buzz about this when it came out a couple of years ago, so I checked it out when I saw that the audiobook was available.
My favorite things: Once I started this book I didn’t want to stop. The story is engaging and moves quickly with a sense of urgency that will make it hard to put down after “one more chapter.” Woven throughout the story are critiques of a sort of neocolonialist anthropology, gentrification, and erasure of cultural traditions – all of which come together to create a complex portrait of a changing Brooklyn.
Who it’s great for: Teens interested in urban fantasy.
What’s it about: The story of two friends, partners in art and life, creating animated works that bring them a sort of fame while also forcing them to confront difficult truths and traumas in their lives that other people would like to leave in the past.
What made me pick it up: I needed an audiobook to listen to and this one was available, has gotten a lot of good press, and has a cover that makes me want to read it.
My favorite things: Whitaker treats characters suffering addictions almost without judgment in a way that is refreshingly humane. She takes the time to develop every character’s layers and the complexity of their relationships.
Who it’s great for: Readers looking for complex relationships between characters or an exploration of identity.
Originally published in: 2016 (North American edition 2017)
What’s it about: This reads like a thought experiment gone very, very right.What would happen in a world where women developed a physical power that men couldn’t match?
What made me pick it up: I think I put this on hold because there was a blurb from Margaret Atwood on the cover. But I’m also just a sucker for speculative work that is (post)apocalyptic and/or dystopian.
My favorite things: Somehow this book is both a very heavy-handed critique of global patriarchy and an electrifying story. The novel is bookended by letters between two writers, Naomi and Neil, whose gendered interactions flip the script in a way that will entertain anyone tired of mansplaining.
Who it’s great for: Fan’s of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Readers looking for unapologetically feminist read that doesn’t sacrifice story for politics.
What’s it about: A variety of writers reflect on specific lines or verses that they find to be particularly profound or informative and discuss how those lines impact their writing processes or the way they approach writing.
My favorite things: This is such an interesting insight into the minds and processes of so many favorite contemporary authors. I would never have connected some of these writers to the pieces that inspire them. There are more than forty contributing authors and each essay is relatively short, which makes this an easy book to dip in and out of as you need inspiration or have the time to pick it up.
Who it’s great for: WriMos in need of a little inspiration through the second half of NaNoWriMo. Anyone interested in reading about the writing that highly regarded contemporary writers find inspirational and formative.
What’s it about: Clayton Byrd loves nothing more than playing his blues harp with grandfather – Cool Papa Byrd. When Cool Papa Byrd passes suddenly Clayton struggles to adjust. He leaves home hoping to catch up with Cool Papa’s band of Bluesmen and finds an unexpected adventure on the way.
My favorite things: There’s a reason why Rita Williams-Garcia has won so many awards – she’s a masterful writer who never shies away from difficult topics. She takes a tale of love, loss, and grief and makes it thrilling but relatable. She weaves music throughout the story, making Clayton’s world come alive. No character is two dimensional, rather, she writes everyone as a full and complex person.
Who it’s great for: Middle-grade readers looking for a story that treats black boys as real people and not as stereotypes. Fans of Williams-Garcia’s other work. Readers interested in the roles music can play in life.
What’s it about: Kid and her parents leave Toronto to spend six months in New York City dogsitting for her father’s cousin while her mother performs in an off-broadway play. She befriends Will and the two of them confront their biggest fears to determinedly search for a goat rumored to bring seven years good luck to anyone who can spot him.
What made me pick it up: This was recommended by a colleague whose current ambition is to convince as many people as possible to read this book.
My favorite things: Fleming does a great job of introducing a variety of obstacles that characters face in daily life- in the form of disability, mental and physical illness, and loss – without sensationalizing them at all. Rather, each character’s experience of difference is matter-of-fact and something to be taken in stride rather than agonized over throughout the book. It’s a fun, quirky story that many readers will find both outrageous and relatable.
Who it’s great for: Middle-grade readers who like a quirky adventure. Fans of E.L. Konigsburg.
What it’s about: A modern southern gothic story set in a contemporary rural Mississippi Gulf Coast community chronicling a family’s struggles with poverty, addiction, incarceration, and the ghosts of past injustices.
What made me pick it up: I read Ward’s early novel Salvage the Bones last year and was excited to pick up her newest work.
My favorite things: Sing, Unburied, Sing is beautifully written and almost painful to read from the first page. The climax, however inevitable, left me stunned and heartbroken – but I’m here for it. The saddest parts of Ward’s stories don’t feel like cheap shots or emotional manipulation the way writing sometimes comes across. Instead, it feels honest and necessary. I love the way she seamlessly incorporates ghosts and spirits into the fabric of this family’s life.
Who it’s great for: Southern gothic readers; fans of Beloved.