Radiant Fugitives covers some big topics – LGBTQ politics, same-sex marriage, religion, Islamophobia, and the Obama campaign, to name just a few! – but it is at its heart an intimate novel, focusing on the ties that both bind families together and drive them apart. Seema, originally from India, has been estranged from her parents and younger sister for over 20 years, after she came out to her father. But the imminent arrival of her baby and her mother’s unspecified terminal illness brings together the three women of the family together for an opportunity for reconciliation. What follows is both tender and utterly heartbreaking – with an ending that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.
Radiant Fugitives by Nawaaz Ahmed, (List Price: 27, Counterpoint, 9781640094048, August 2021)
Reviewed by Jude Burke-Lewis, Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi
Jewel Van Hanen created a video diary app several years ago called Golden Rule. Since then, she’s held 9 weekend retreats on her estate for a very select few group of users. But a year ago, she dropped out of the public eye. Now she’s back with a new weekend, but this one’s different. It will be a weekend filled with puzzles and games and at the end, two winners will receive a big cash prize. Told through the POV of three of the six competitors, The Marvelous will keep you on your toes with nonstop riddles and action.
The Marvelous by Claire Kann (List Price: $18.99, Swoon Reads, 9781250192691, 6/8/2021)
Sometimes it’s the mundane that’s the most fascinating. Kristen Arnett’s novel With Teeth takes the everyday marriage challenges of staying in love, being faithful, having patience with an unknowable child, and figuring out what to make for supper, tosses that with a dose of bizarre behavior which gives us what becomes to one queer family’s happily ever after. Arnett’s characters are infuriating and I think you’ll puzzle over Sammie, Monika, and Samson well after you finish the last page.
With Teeth by Kristen Arnett (List Price: $27, Riverhead Books, 9780593191507, 6/1/2021)
At the start of senior year, Devon and Chiamaka are two high-achieving students–prefects, in fact–with promising futures. But soon, mass text messages start going around the school telling their darkest secrets, and start to drive their friendships and all of the hard work they’ve done over the past four years apart. Are Chiamaka and Devon only coincidentally victims of Aces? Or does the anonymous bully targeting the only two Black students at Niveus Academy have a deeper, more disturbing motive? Àbíké-Íyímídé’s thriller brings the psychological subterfuge and toxic relationships of high school social life to light, as two seniors attempt to figure out whether or not their downfall is their own, or a result of a sinister conspiracy.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-Iyimide (List Price: $18.99, Feiwel & Friends, 9781250800817, 6/1/2021)
Last year, the English translation of Mieko Kawakami’s novel Breasts and Eggs received so much indie bookseller excitement and praise that the “buzz” was more like a swarm. But her work has been highly acclaimed in Japan for decades. Haruki Murakami has called her his favorite young novelist — and it was Kawakami who did a series of interviews with him over two years where she pointedly grilled him on on the misogyny in his novels.
The receiption for Heaven, Kawakami’s latest novel to be translated into English, has been just as enthusiastic. Heaven explores the meaning and experience of violence and the consolations of friendship. Bullied because of his lazy eye, Kawakami’s protagonist suffers in silence. His only respite comes thanks to his friendship with a girl who is also the victim of relentless teasing. But what is the nature of a friendship if your shared bond is terror?
“I try to write from the child’s perspective—how they see the world.” says the author, “Coming to the realization you’re alive is such a shock. One day, we’re thrown into life without warning.”
What booksellers are saying about Heaven
From the bestselling author of Breasts and Eggs comes this new novel that is once again storytelling at its best. Real, raw and revelatory, Heaven shares the story of two young people who are joined at a broken place and investigates the power of human kindness and friendship to help them move forward. — Angie Tally, The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC Buy from The Country Bookshop
If you thought Breasts and Eggs was good (and I did), Heaven will be a fierce competitor. It’s a fascinating mental examination into how one is to survive under terrible circumstances and how far one would go to break free from it. — Easty Lambert-Brown, Ernest & Hadley Booksellers, Tuscaloosa, AL Buy from Ernest & Hadley Books.
What I appreciate so much about Kawakami is the strength of her voice, and her ability to convey the most basic aspects of human nature in a complex and thoughtful way. Pick up this book and then share it with everyone! -Kelsey Jagneaux, Tombolo Books, St. Petersburg, FL Buy from Tombolo Books
Heaven by Mieko Kawakami offers a blend of devastation and hope, exploring both the desolation of lonely adolescence and the beauty of friendship. — Alex Brown, Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC Buy from Quail Ridge Books
About Mieko Kawakami
Mieko Kawakami is the author of the internationally best-selling novel, Breasts and Eggs, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and one of TIME’s Best 10 Books of 2020. Born in Osaka, Kawakami made her literary debut as a poet in 2006, and published her first novella, My Ego, My Teeth, and the World, in 2007. Her writing is known for its poetic qualities and its insights into the female body, ethical questions, and the dilemmas of modern society. She has received numerous prestigious literary awards in Japan, including the Akutagawa Prize, the Tanizaki Prize, and the Murasaki Shikibu Prize. Kawakami lives in Tokyo, Japan.
An old building housing a brothel stands in the middle of Soho. The young millionaire who owns the property wants to turn it into luxury condos. Unfortunately, the tenants aren’t going to leave without a fight. A riveting tale about wealth, class, gentrification, power, and gender, this story shows readers just how unjust the world can be, but in the most entertaining and amusing way possible. (And just look at that cover!) A 2021 must-read!
Brandon Taylor’s book of short stories, Filthy Animals, is a bright shining explosion of beautiful writing. Six of the eleven stories are linked and dipping back and forth into Lionel’s relationship with two dancers, Sophie and Charles, which is hypnotic. These stories about human relationships range from those between lovers, friends, and family. How is it that Taylor can write so that we can see the interior crevices of these character’s souls?
Lara has been crushing on Chase since she was a little girl. Now it’s senior year and he’s finally noticing her. But on the first day of school, in walks Lara’s summer friend/romance Jasmine–in town to stay. Lara’s into Chase, but she also can’t forget about Jasmine. What’s she going to do now? I loved how we not only get a questioning bi-romance, but also get some good friendship dynamics in Cool for the Summer. If you’re looking for a light summer read that also manages some heavy emotions in a Grease vibe, look no further!
Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler (List Price: $18.99, Wednesday Books, 9781250765826, 5/11/2021)
Reviewed by Jennifer Jones, Bookmiser in Marietta, Georgia
This beautiful, elegaic novel gives us a family of voices over the course of a last homecoming to rural Ohio for Brian, dying of AIDS at the height of the 1980s epidemic. Told with empathy and heart, as well as a pitch-perfect sense of time and place, The Prettiest Star is a deeply affecting story about what it means to understand each other and where we come from, even when our lives have taken us light years away.
The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels (List Price: $26.00, Hub City Press, 9781938235627, May 2020)
Carter Sickels has written a gorgeous and heartbreaking book. Brian comes home to rural Ohio after contracting AIDS in New York. As he searches for something like peace we also watch his family and their complicated love for not only him but each other. I absolutely loved this, it was tender and humane, and a glimpse of a shamefully almost-forgotten time in American history. I haven’t stopped thinking about Brian since I finished the novel, and I can tell I won’t stop thinking of him for a long time.
The Prettiest Star by Carter Sickels (List Price: $26.00, Hub City Press, 9781938235627, May 2020)
Kristin Cashore is one of the most gifted fantasy writers of our time. When this book opened from the perspective of a many-tentacled sea creature at the bottom of the ocean, I was surprised and delighted to find myself completely comfortable knowing that this chapter would fit with the larger story so very satisfyingly. And I was right, of course. I am overwhelmed by my love for the Graceling realm and the brilliant way that Cashore has expanded on the world with each of the novels, building such strong, full characters and gorgeous wrought lore along the way. And now there are telepathic blue foxes! And silbercows! And The Keeper! And they all feel more real than my own world, having finished this novel so recently. I hold WINTERKEEP and Lovisa just as close to my heart as I do GRACELING, FIRE & BITTERBLUE and I really will read anything that Kristin Cashore writes.
Raffy LOVES cosplay. So, he’s been furiously working on an entry for a local convention with his friend May. But he has several obstacles, not the least of which is an unsupportive mother and his ex, Luca, who has entered with one of their other friends. But Raffy is a natural with a sequin and he’s sure he can pull this one off. This delightful romance-meets-cosplay book from Ryan La Sala is perfect timing for those of us with the blues from missing our favorite conventions this year.
Be Dazzled by Ryan La Sala (List Price: $17.99, Sourcebooks Fire, 9781492682691, 1/5/2021)
This beautiful picture book without words tells a story of welcoming and acceptance. I love that the absence of text allows the reader to make up any story or dialogue they want. The pictures provide so much to talk about, and it would be easy to become so absorbed in this book that the time just passes by.
Over the Shop by JonArno Lawson, Qin Leng (Illus) (List Price: $16.99, Candlewick, 9781536201475, 1/5/2021)
Reviewed by Kate Storhoff, Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Julie Murphy’s Pumpkin is a delight. I was so happy to return to Clover City and meet brand new characters–twins Waylon and Clementine–and see a bunch of familiar faces, including previous protagonists Willowdean and Millie. Fans of Dumplin’ and Puddin’ will not be disappointed!
In Last Night at the Telegraph Club, Lily Hu and Kath Miller are gorgeously rendered against the glittering backdrop of San Francisco, escaping into the night for The Telegraph Club where they find themselves staring down a sort of freedom that they know they cannot leave behind. From the very first page, this is a novel that feels so incredibly full and rich with historical details and simmers with yearning and tension I simply could not put it down. Delving into the realities of 1950’s Chinese America identity, queer culture, McCarthyism & women in STEM, Lo has crafted a historical fiction novel of the absolute highest caliber.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo (List Price: $18.99, Dutton Books for Young Readers, 9780525555254, 1/19/2021)
Reviewed by Cristina Russell, Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida
A quirky, clever novel about words: the words we create to describe our world and the words we use to define ourselves. The entertaining story alternates between lexicographer Peter Winceworth in 1899 who spends his time placing mountweasels into Swansby’s New Encyclopaedic Dictionary and Mallory, the young intern who is tasked with finding these words a century later.
The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams (List Price: $26.95, Doubleday, 9780385546775, 1/5/2021)
Reviewed by Kelley Barnes, Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, North Carolina
I inhaled this propulsive and inventive story of a reimagined American West in the late 1800s. Ada, a midwife who finds herself unable to get pregnant is facing expulsion (or worse) in her village. She falls in with a charismatic outlaw named Kid and is whisked into a gang filled with autonomous women. Escapades ensue. Great writing, strong characters and a plot that moves along in a book that comes in just under 300 pages. Very impressive! I definitely recommend this genderbent Hole in the Wall Gang reimagining!
Outlawed by Anna North (List Price: $26, Bloomsbury Publishing, 9781635575422, 1/5/2021)
Into the Real deserves its own genre of gender queer science fiction. Main character Quinn’s life gets split into thirds after a run-in with the always present Coe in their post apocalyptic town. From leader of the resistance to a patient at a conversion therapy camp, Quinn finds themself in different situations but still with the same town, people, and questions. With each different life, they must decide what’s more important–living true to themself or blending in. With a revealing truth at the end, Quinn realizes what really happened to her hometown.
Into the Real by Z Brewer (List Price: $17.99, Quill Tree Books, 9780062691385, October, 2020)
Outlawed by Anna North Bloomsbury Publishing, January
Anna North has taken the traditional Western and flipped it on its head with a feminist twist for a very refreshing and timely novel about self worth. Taking place in an alternate past, Ada marries at 17, but after a year of trying, can’t conceive a child. She is kicked out by her husband’s family and accused of witchcraft by the town she grew up in, forcing her to flee. She ends up with an atypical group of outlaws by way of a convent and begins to learn to survive on the outside of traditional society. Intimate and exciting, this is a very fun book!
Melody is in her junior year of high school and all her dreams have come true. She finally gets to be the stage manager of her high school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. But the theatre is riddled with superstition. Every new play has a new superstition and a counter-curse for that superstition. So, when Melody’s love life causes problems with their current play the stage kids decide that when Melody is in love, that’s when things go wrong. The superstition for the spring musical is going to be that Melody doesn’t fall in love. Melody is on board with the plan. But that’s before their local celebrity, Odile Rose, comes back from filming a TV show and is cast in the musical. Everyone thought Odile was snobby and standoffish, but she’s not that way with Melody…
The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley (List Price: $17.99, HarperTeen, 9780062409263, 12/1/2020) Reviewed by Jennifer Jones, Bookmiser, Inc. in Roswell, Georgia
This is an impressive sophomore novella that breathes new life into campfire stories and oral history. In a mystical world of tiger shifters and deadly mammoths, one cleric must bargain for their life with a folk tale. When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain is a story of cultural exchange and a question of who pens history. It’s powerful, compelling, and downright enchanting.
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo (List price: $15.99, Tordotcom, 9781250786135, December 2020), recommended by Lizy Coale, Copperfish Books, Punta Gorda, FL.
Enormous in scope and theme, this book is a force. Weaving past and present into a lyrical world, Joukhadar uses a multi-generational cast to explore what it means to belong to a society, a community, and to oneself. It’s in this narrowing of belonging that the novel truly soars, literal ghosts and the ghosts of self-populating the story of a young trans boy as he sheds the confines of his traditional community-at-large and finds himself in the immigrant, working-class, LGBTQ, artists’ underground of NYC. The characters are imperfectly human. They experience everything from grief to joy, their lives full of loss and love, of heartbreak and the comfort of others, of seeing their world anew, and of being seen for who they are. This isn’t a novel about suffering; this is a novel about being in the world.
The Thirty Names of Night by Zeyn Joukhadar (List Price: $27, Atria Books, November, 2020)
Our differences should never be hidden as a means of conformity, but fully embraced for their powerful ability to make us unique individuals. It’s a simple sentiment, if not a tired one, but TJ Klune has a magical power that allows him to breathe new, exhilarating life into that simplicity. With The House in the Cerulean Sea, he has skillfully crafted a contemporary fable filled with humor, wit, overwhelming delight, and some of the most colorfully drawn characters I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting in a book. Positively queer and heartfelt, you’ll find that TJ Klune is a brilliant writer and a masterful storyteller.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune (List price: $18.99, Tor Books), recommended by Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC.