It is just weeks after the legalization of gay marriage in the U.S. in the summer of 2015. We meet two men who grew up together in the D.C. suburbs and are at opposite ends of what it means to be a gay man at this time in American history. Both are involved in obsessive cross-generational friendships. Sebastian has a complicated relationship with one of his out and proud high school students. Oscar is spending time with a Stonewall generation novelist on the decline. Sebastian is anxious to settle down and assimilate. Oscar is infuriated by what he sees as the death of gay culture in favor of what he views as colorless banality. I loved everything about this book. It is beautifully written and full of profound insights on what happens when a formerly ostracized segment of society becomes incorporated into the general population and what that means, good and bad, for the individuals that are part of it. Stunning!
Let’s Get Back to the Party by Zak Salih, (List Price: $16.95, Algonquin Books, 9781643752075, June 2022)
Three cheers for Albert Entwistle! I snuggled into this heartwarming "it’s never too late" coming-out story right away and loved watching this gentle man bloom. Albert is painfully lonely, staying far in the back of the closet and avoiding human connections all his adult life. But forced retirement at age 65 pushes him to completely change his life, and he finds that everyone he knows has been rooting for him all along.
The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain, (List Price: $15.95, A John Scognamiglio Book, 9781496737755, June 2022)
This is a truly lovely and joyful romance between two women that weaves together conversations of sacrifice, family, and friendship in such a beautiful way. Delilah and Claire are true champions of queer joy, and it was wonderful to read a story where queer women were the only characters. With a focus on second chances in a small town, reckoning with your past, chosen family, and of course, the way falling in love can turn you inside out, folks who enjoy Louise Miller’s novels or Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop will fall in love with Delilah and Claire.
Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake, (List Price: $16.00, Berkley, 9780593336403, February 2022)
I love retellings of classic stories, and Tink and Wendy fits the bill to a “T”. A modern tale that completely reinvents the characters, “Tink and Wendy” is both beautiful and heartbreaking all in one. Love is never easy, especially when magic and immortality are at play, and the implied brutality throughout the book makes that clear. Nothing is ever terribly graphic, but it might be enough to make you shiver or cringe anyway. The writing style, split between time periods and perspectives, adds context without confusion. The additional of queerness into any story automatically makes it better (in my opinion), and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I would recommend it!
Tink and Wendy by Kelly Ann Jacobson, (List Price: $14, Three Rooms Press, 9781953103130, October 2021)
When you are growing up, the world can seem to change around you in shocking ways. Things you have taken for granted are often turned on their head and ideas and beliefs to which you have always held unquestioning faith sometimes leave you wondering what you do really believe. New York Times bestselling author Gayle Forman makes her middle grade debut with the story of Frankie and Bug and the challenges and difficulties they face during the summer the world opens up for them.
Frankie & Bug by Gayle Forman, (List Price: $17.99, Aladdin, 9781534482531, October 2021)
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
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)
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)