All Reviews

Beyoncé’s new album, Cowboy Carter, has sparked a sometimes contentious debate about the nature and identity of country music. It’s an invigorating topic that has long been explored by writers and scholars. A number of excellent books, such as Charles L. Hughes’ Country Soul, Francesca Royster’s Black Country Music and Daphne Brooks’ Liner Notes for the Revolution, have contributed deeply to the conversation about race and country music. Now, acclaimed songwriter, producer and novelist Alice Randall (Black Bottom Saints, The Wind Done Gone) provides a detailed and far-reaching account in her mesmerizing My Black Country: A Journey Through Country Music’s Black Past, Present, and Future

Part autobiography and part music history, Randall’s sprawling yet tightly controlled text uncovers the roots of Black country and reveals its future in the work of contemporary country artists such as Miko Marks, Rissi Palmer, Rhiannon Giddens, Mickey Guyton and Allison Russell. Randall reveals that Black country was born on December 10, 1927, when banjoist DeFord Bailey played “Pan American Blues” on “Barn Dance,” a radio show out of Nashville, Tennessee; Bailey became the first superstar of the Grand Ole Opry. In addition, as Randall points out, other Black performers stood at the forefront of country music. The eight-fingered Lesley Riddle, who created a new three-fingered picking technique for playing the guitar, taught songs to the folk group the Carter Family, and pianist Lil Hardin, who would marry Louis Armstrong, was the first Black woman to play on a hillbilly record—Jimmie Rodgers’ Blue Yodel No. 9, also known as Standin’ on the Corner

In Randall’s brilliant genealogy of country music, “DeFord Bailey is the papa, Lil Hardin Armstrong is the mama, Ray Charles is their genius child, Charley Pride is DeFord’s side child, and Herb Jeffries is Lil’s stepson.” As Randall reiterates, “Black Country is a big tent with many entry points.” For example, Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner can be considered Black country because their songs meet some criteria on the generally accepted country checklist: influences of Evangelical Christianity, African music and English, Irish or Scottish ballad forms; “concerns with female legacy”; offering advice, using “banjo, fiddle, steel guitar, fife [and] yodeling voice,” to name just a few. Randall adds that these qualities aren’t a litmus test, but “a likeness test. It’s a way to educate your ears and your eyes. Is there Blackness you have refused to see and hear?”

Randall’s songs have been recorded by artists Glen Campbell, Radney Foster and Justin McBride. Trisha Yearwood scored a number one hit with Randall’s song, co-written with Matraca Berg, “XXX’s and OOO’s.” Yet, as she writes, “I had been so whitewashed out of [my songs], the racial identity of my living-in-song heroes and sheroes so often erased.” Randall devotes a portion of My Black Country to documenting the recording of an album released at the same time as the book, featuring Randall’s songs as reimagined by her “posse of Black Country genius,” which includes, among others, Marks, Giddens, Russell and Randall’s daughter, Caroline Randall Williams.

My Black Country is a landmark book and an essential starting point for conversations about the nature of country music. It is true that mainstream dialogue comes late in country’s history, but coupled with Cowboy Carter, My Black Country feels right on time.

Alice Randall’s brilliant genealogy of Black country music, My Black Country, is both long overdue and, thanks to Beyoncé’s Cowboy Carter, right on time.
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In some ways, Grant Snider’s Poetry Comics is exactly what you’d expect—a series of short narratives that combine lyrical words with cartoons. But in almost every other way, this collection manages to surprise readers at each turn of the page.

Poetry Comics is loosely structured around seasons of the year, beginning in spring with tadpoles and leafing trees, and wrapping up in winter with snowfall and the boredom of being stuck indoors. But not all the topics of Snider’s poems—which are mostly in free verse but include some rhyming verses—are seasonal in nature. Many are introspective, touching on personal growth and the creative process in ways that will resonate with readers of various ages: “Maybe a moment is a taste— / a pickle’s sour crunch. / If only there were a way / to put it on paper / I could capture a moment / in all its wild power.” A recurring exploration of “How to Write a Poem” addresses frustration and revision before reaching a joyful conclusion.

Most of the poems include one or two figures leaping acrobatically through panels, often interacting with birds, insects, plants, trees and other elements of the natural world. The pen-and-ink illustrations, colored and edited digitally, span a gorgeous range of pastel and more saturated hues (on display to particularly great effect in “Poem for Painting My Room”). At times, the artwork is more conceptual, as in “Best Friends,” which visualizes a friendship via shapes in two different colors, or “Shape Story,” whose creative panel structure might prompt readers to think not only about what makes a poem but about how comics are constructed.

That may be the greatest value of Snider’s creativity-infused collection: Young readers and aspiring creatives who might be daunted by the prospect of writing a traditional poem or drawing a full graphic novel will find in these pages dozens of new models for, as Snider puts it, helping “say things / I never knew were in me.”

Grant Snider’s Poetry Comics are often introspective, touching on personal growth and the creative process in ways that will resonate with readers of various ages.
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For many years, Icarus Gallagher has slipped into the dangerous Mr. Black’s mansion on opportune nights to steal priceless artworks and replace them with perfect forgeries created by Icarus’ father, Angus. Their strange mission is one of revenge: Mr. Black hurt Angus’ family, and so Angus has spent almost two decades trying to hurt Mr. Black.

As a consequence of his father’s obsession, Icarus lives a half-life devoid of any real connection. At 17, he only has a year before he can leave and never see Angus again. Until then, he’ll keep his head down. 

Except one night, Icarus is caught by Helios, Mr. Black’s teenage son. While he originally appears to be a threat that could expose Icarus, the two soon form a tentative friendship—and then something more intense. For Icarus, a boy made of want, it’s almost more than he can bear. But his connection with the broken, golden Helios might prove to be the key to freedom for both of them. 

K. Ancrum’s extraordinary fifth novel Icarus is an elegant, multifaceted gem about art, power and fear. Ancrum performs a confident high-wire act in balancing the weighty manifestations of these themes alongside those of connection, desire and contradiction. 

Icarus—book and boy—is the embodiment of raw yearning, and all of Ancrum’s characters wear their hearts on the tips of their tongues. Occasionally the book’s dialogue can feel unrealistic or even overwrought, showing an honesty and openness not necessarily common among 17-year-old boys. But there is an intimate truth in the intensity of feeling behind their words, and this is one of Ancrum’s greatest skills as a writer. 

“Some of us lead lives that would require suspension of belief from others,” Ancrum writes in the novel’s dedication. Perhaps she references the unreality of a teenaged art thief who tends ferns and scales buildings, but maybe she’s simply talking about the unreality of everyday injuries and ecstasies: the cold rage of abuse; the emptiness of grief; the rapturous beauty and agony of being touched. 

Ancrum’s prose is also thrillingly decadent in certain moments, channeling the masterpieces of art whose power she telegraphs through every page. Often sudden bluntness, either of sentence length or metaphor, gives an edge to the gilded phrasing. In Ancrum’s novel, Icarus’ wings striving for the heat of the sun becomes both a beautiful representation of queer love and a sharp, artful subversion of the original Greek mythos.

In her extraordinary fifth novel, Icarus, K. Ancrum performs a confident high-wire act, balancing the weighty manifestations of connection, desire and contradiction.
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On the same day each August, Ana Magdalena Bach travels by ferry to a Caribbean island, in order to lay a gladiolus bouquet on her mother’s grave. Afterwards, she spends the night in the same hotel overlooking a lagoon inhabited by blue herons. Against an evocative backdrop of jungles and beaches, this pilgrimage remains unvarying for eight years, until the opening of Gabriel García Márquez’s Until August, when Ana Magdalena makes the startling decision to have a one-night stand with a stranger. Upon each subsequent trip to the island, she seeks out a different man, embarking on a series of strange, often fraught affairs.  

García Márquez worked on Until August in his final years as dementia increasingly eroded his ability to write. Its publication comes a decade after his death, and García Márquez’s sons admit in the book’s preface that the Nobel laureate himself said, “This book doesn’t work. It must be destroyed.” But upon returning to the drafts years later, his sons believed the book to be better than García Márquez had judged, and decided that it was worthy of publication. 

Indeed, this novella, and its crisp translation by Anne McLean, avoids the disappointment of many other infamous posthumous releases from canonical authors. Part of its success can be credited to editor Cristóbal Pera’s care in piecing together García Márquez’s drafts and annotations. Although lacking the intoxicating complexity of García Márquez’s most famous works, Until August echoes the elegant mastery of time and change that propelled novels such as One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera into greatness. 

Each year brings lush depictions of change on the island—with its impoverished villages and shining tourist resorts—and in Ana Magdalena. Few novelists, even in their prime, are capable of matching the steady control and organic surprise García Márquez mixes into the evolution of Ana Magdalena’s marriage and family life back on the mainland. There is a quality of immediacy in every action in Until August, and readers will feel the thudding swings of emotion as a shout causes a silence that “remained vitrified for several days in the air of the house,” or Ana Magdalena watches a lover who sleeps looking “like an enormous orphan.” 

This brief offering delivers graceful insight into the fickle human heart, serving as an absorbing—if quiet—epilogue to García Márquez’s towering oeuvre.

This posthumous novella delivers graceful insight into the fickle human heart, serving as an absorbing—if quiet—epilogue to García Márquez’s towering oeuvre.
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RuPaul, drag superstar and pop culture icon, has been busy on his lifelong way to stardom—a destiny, he reveals, foretold by a psychic before he was born. He has been an actor, producer, author, model, dancer, singer, songwriter, media host, business mogul and creator of the multi-Emmy-winning reality TV series, “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” He has worked his way from unhoused nomad to celebrity star, including an actual one on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Now 63, RuPaul turns his penetrating gaze inward, looking for deeper meanings within his journey. In The House of Hidden Meanings, he shares all with a tender clarity that renders him unforgettably human. 

Ernestine Charles chose her only son’s name because, she said, there was no one else “alive with a name like that.” Raising four children in San Diego after her abusive husband left, she was “always in a bad mood.” RuPaul entertained her with “imitations, bits, sketches, little scraps of makeshift theater. . . . I put her powder on and whipped a towel around my head as if it were a lustrous head of hair,” he recalls. As a teenager, he escaped to Atlanta and eventually worked his way to New York City. Club scenes kept him performing and partying. He always acted like a star, he says, because he knew he was one.

RuPaul paints wildly vivid city scenes: gritty New York, Atlanta alive with punk and drag, and San Diego, where his complicated childhood haunts him still. Relationships were often sidetracked by too many drugs and risky sex, but he somehow survived, always believing in his destiny—and in drag. His 1993 breakthrough video, “Supermodel (You Better Work),” turned gay stereotypes on their heads and showcased an exuberance that appealed to both the mainstream and the LGBTQ+ community.

Here, we don’t find his rise to fame, the lead-up to “Drag Race” or even his activism and philanthropic work. That information about the often-profiled star is readily available elsewhere.  The House of Hidden Meanings is about beginnings. RuPaul reveals the inner work of healing from past wounds and repairing his relationship with himself, and his memoir celebrates the potential for reinvention. “In a system where things insisted on being one or the other, drag was everything,” he writes. “That made it magic.”

In his refreshing memoir, drag superstar and pop culture icon RuPaul tells his life story with a tender clarity that renders a larger-than-life figure unforgettably human.

Jennifer Thorne’s Diavola is an exercise in delicious twists and masterful suspense, told in the smart, snarky voice of Anna Pace, a jaded Manhattanite on a vacation quite literally from hell.

Anna’s swanky upcoming family trip certainly doesn’t seem monstrous on the outside. A marketing artist by trade and a painter by passion, she’s thrilled at the prospect of renting a Tuscan villa in the picturesque Italian countryside. The problem is her family. Thorne immediately places readers in Anna’s anxious thoughts, and her dread at having to see her parents and siblings, let alone take an entire trip with them, seeps into your bones before any of the other characters even arrive on the page. From a never-ending cycle of guilt trips to spiteful gaslighting, the tension between the Pace siblings and their alternatively aloof and agitated parents is so palpable that you wonder why they torture themselves every year. It’s soon clear that their stay at Villa Taccola might be the last straw.

As ugly stories and past grudges are revealed and Italian wine flows freely, the vengeful spirits of the villa decide it’s time to feast, and events quickly spiral out of control. Thorne pays homage to a cornucopia of mythology, sprinkling in some art and architecture history for good measure, as the Paces struggle to make it through each night. Diavola is a ferocious, maximalist horror ride, an impressive display of Thorne’s skill at crafting unsettling and disorienting scenes. There’s a rottenness lurking within the Pace family—Anna included—but it’s hard not to sympathize with them as they battle night terrors, horrifying visions and spirit possession. After all, whose family is perfect?

Diavola is a ferocious, maximalist horror ride, an impressive display of Jennifer Thorne’s skill at crafting unsettling and disorienting scenes of terror.
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In S.A. Barnes’ slow-simmering creepfest Ghost Station, the stress of deep space travel can do things to a person. If longtime spacers develop the condition called ERS, they’ll start to see things that aren’t there, hear voices that no one else hears. They sometimes turn irritable, even violent. 

The story begins with Dr. Ophelia Bray, who is very out of her element. A psychologist by trade, she’s been assigned to a small exploration team investigating an ancient, lifeless planet. The crew is mourning the death of a teammate, and none of the surviving members have any interest in Ophelia’s therapy sessions or letting their guard down. They also don’t seem to care if their work increases their chances of ERS. But as the explorers investigate the planet, stranger and stranger things begin to happen. It seems they aren’t alone on this world after all. Ophelia and the crew are going to have to trust one another to figure out what’s happening to them if they hope to escape alive. 

Barnes is no stranger to sci-fi horror; her excellent Dead Silence stood out for its atmosphere and sheer scariness, and fans of that novel will be more than happy with this follow-up. Like any great horror story, Ghost Station takes its time, but is sure to ensnare anyone craving intergalactic horror. Barnes patiently increases the sense of unease, building suspense with small moments that are odd on their own and increasingly strange taken together: an empty spacesuit in an abandoned station, a shape running through a snowstorm seen through a window, a rash on the skin. Things pick up steam in the later acts, especially after a couple of shocking moments right after the halfway mark.

In this golden era of sci-fi horror, Barnes leads the charge with her thoughtfully crafted characters, top-notch pacing and an ever-present sense of dread.

With its thoughtfully crafted characters, top-notch pacing and ever-present sense of dread, Ghost Station is another sci-fi horror hit from S.A. Barnes.
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The Napoleonic wars have been fertile ground for historical fantasy in recent years. From the draconic aerial combat of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke’s wry fairy tale of manners, that continent-spanning conflict provides an ideal canvas for fantastical retellings. It’s sweeping in scope, and is easier to romanticize than more recent wars. Hester Fox’s The Book of Thorns, however, is not about magicians single-handedly winning battles. Rather, it is about two women who can hear flowers. Englishwoman Cornelia and Belgian maid Lijsbeth escape their abusive homes and find themselves on opposite sides of the Waterloo battle lines. Neither woman can change the course of the war. All they can hope for is to somehow find safety and joy in a hostile world.

Fox insists on confronting Cornelia and Lijsbeth’s individual traumas head-on. They bear profound scars and are, in their own way, survivors, although both would balk at being called such. Like Katherine Arden’s The Warm Hands of Ghosts, The Book of Thorns is fundamentally a war novel dressed up in magical conceits—in this case, talking rosebushes. Its villains are selfish, not self-consciously evil; its heroes are genuinely decent people, but decency alone is not enough for them to prevail.

The Book of Thorns has a happy ending, in its own way: Both Cornelia and Lijsbeth find people they love, who love them back and who would never cause them pain. That is a kind of joy, if hard-won. Fox does not hide from the fact that for all the romance surrounding Bonaparte’s exploits, nobody who fought at Waterloo came out unscathed, whether they were breathing by battle’s end or not. But Fox also reminds us that, even in fields tilled by cavalry charges and fertilized with gunpowder, flowers can grow.

Hester Fox’s The Book of Thorns is a gentle, magical tale of hope and healing in the midst of war.
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What’s the difference between witchcraft and a miracle? According to The Familiar, beloved fantasy author Leigh Bardugo’s latest novel, the answer is simple: politics. This distinction is of life-and-death importance for Luzia Cotado, a scullery maid in a less-than-fashionable Madrid household whose milagritos, or little miracles, can lighten a heavy load or make flowers bloom in winter. As a conversa, a descendant of Jews who converted to Catholicism under the threat of death, Luzia is careful to appear devout lest she fall under the scrutiny of the Spanish Inquisition. That means keeping her milagritos, with their incantations derived from a patois of Hebrew and Spanish, secret. But when her lonely, petty mistress discovers her gifts, Luzia is forced to display her power publicly and thus increase her employers’ standing in society. If she successfully navigates the elite’s whims, a more comfortable life awaits. If she fails, she can only hope the Inquisition will offer her a quick death.

The Familiar is a book where candles cast deep shadows and even sunlit scenes take on an air of unease. At its center is Luzia, a difficult woman to like, both in-world and for a reader. Foolhardy and ambitious without wisdom, she makes decisions that endanger her life for little reward, time and again. Her counterpoint is Guillén Santángel, the eponymous familiar. As with so many of Bardugo’s morally gray (and potentially evil) male characters, Santángel is immediately compelling, even before readers venture into his perspective. The mysterious immortal wraith holds not just Luzia’s attention, but that of the entire city. Through his ancient eyes and almost alien mannerisms, Bardugo adds depth and intrigue, preserving the mystique of the pre-modern world even as the Age of Exploration begins. Full of hidden perils and twisting machinations, The Familiar is Bardugo’s most assured and mature work yet, a remarkable portrait of the magic of exiles and the traumatic echoes of the Spanish Inquisition.

Full of hidden perils and twisting machinations, The Familiar is Leigh Bardugo’s most assured and mature work yet.
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When shape-shifting monster Shesheshen is woken from her hibernation by monster hunters, she does what she must: She kills and eats one of them. In retaliation, the nearby townsfolk, scared and desperate to hand over a “wyrm” heart to Baroness Wulfyre, poison Shesheshen with rosemary and hunt her until she toddles over a cliff . . . into the care of a kind human woman.

The sweet and tender Homily thinks Shesheshen is human, and laughs at the things Shesheshen says. She would be the perfect partner if she weren’t a Wulfyre, off to kill the beast who ate her brother. The more Shesheshen learns about Homily, the more she realizes how poorly Homily’s been treated by her family—and how desperately she wants Homily’s love. She’ll need to explain to Homily that the Wulfyres are the real monsters, and she’ll need to do it before they destroy all she holds dear.

John Wiswell has created a monster you’ll fall in love with.

Come for the body horror, stay for the romance: There’s a little something for everybody in Nebula Award-winner John Wiswell’s genre-blending debut novel, Someone You Can Build A Nest In. Told from the unexpected perspective of our sentient, hungry blob of a protagonist, this innovative gem doesn’t shy away from the sweet or the unsavory. Her penchant for absorbing things into her body to make bones—or to hide bear traps in her chest as future weapons—is inventive and gruesome, the perfect balance of horrific and fun. Wiswell pulls from fairy tales of yore to build an intriguing world, including the unique landscape of the isthmus where the action takes place, herbal science and an adorable big blue bear. 

Wiswell is best known for his award-winning short stories, experience which is evident in bite-sized chapters that readers will swiftly devour. But it’s the emotional core, Shesheshen and Homily’s asexual and sapphic bond of solace, that will ultimately hook their hearts. A romp that’s both bloody and sweet, Someone You Can Build a Nest In will delight readers who loved Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth and Alix E. Harrow’s A Spindle Splintered.

Horrific and fun, bloody and sweet, Someone You Can Build a Nest In is a deliciously dark fantasy romance starring a shape-shifting monster.
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When beginning this review, I promised myself that I wouldn’t go overboard with baseball puns to describe just how wonderful KT Hoffman’s sports romance, The Prospects, is. Like “Hoffman hits it out of the park with his debut” or “Gene and Luis are the grand slam of relationships.” I tried my hardest, but damn if baseball doesn’t lend itself to describing the absolute home run that is this book.

As the first openly trans professional baseball player, Gene Ionescu is no stranger to hope and hard work. He thrives on it; and baseball loves an underdog. The minor league Beaverton Beavers are like a second family to him, and he feels safe and supported among his teammates. Until Luis Estrada, his former teammate and current rival, gets traded to the Beavers and suddenly all that Gene has built for himself feels threatened. At first, Gene and Luis can’t work together on or off the field. But a begrudging friendship blooms during long hours on the bus and intimate after-hours practices. As Gene and Luis find their stride, they gain the attention of the heavy hitters in the Major Leagues and see each other with fresh eyes. Had Gene never really noticed how sexy and kind Luis was? And does Luis really need to head to his own place when Gene’s apartment (and maybe Gene himself) feels like home? Soon their tenuous friendship gives way to tender new love. But with the Majors calling, the two must decide what they truly want, both from each other and their baseball careers.

The legendary Yankee catcher Yogi Berra is quoted as saying, “Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.” So what happens when a book mixes romance and America’s favorite pastime? You get the perfection that is The Prospects. I will be the first to admit that everything I learned about sports, I learned from sports romance novels. But as an expert on the genre, I can tell the difference between a writer who is just using a baseball diamond as a backdrop and a writer who loves the game so fiercely it almost outshines their love for the main characters. Hoffman is one of the latter. Every corner of this book shines, from the tender love of Gene and Luis to the charming found family that surrounds them and the game that brings them all together. The Prospects is about dreaming big, finding love and blowing the roof off simply by existing. It’s a debut so good it’s in a league of its own. (I’ll see myself out.)

KT Hoffman’s The Prospects is a perfect baseball romance that overflows with love for the sport and its main characters.
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Everyone wants a shortcut to love, especially if a happily ever after is guaranteed. So it’s not surprising that Justin Dahl gets a big response when he explains his gift (or curse) on Reddit: Whoever he dates goes on to meet her perfect match right after things end with him. To his shock, Justin soon hears from Emma, a woman with the same problem. What starts as a half-joking suggestion soon starts to form into a real plan—what if they date each other? Wouldn’t that mean instead of being merely the gateway to love, they could finally have it for themselves . . . right after they break up?

It’s a fun premise, but if you think the plot stays frothy and candy-colored, then you don’t know author Abby Jimenez. Yes, Justin and Emma connect via meet cute (meet unusual, to be more precise) at the beginning of Just for the Summer, but Jimenez quickly develops the characters beyond rom-com archetypes as they deal with challenges that aren’t in the least bit quirky, overblown or played for laughs. Justin and Emma have amazing chemistry and terrific banter, but they also have genuine problems, including family catastrophes, emotional trauma, heavy responsibilities and—in Emma’s case—a mother best compared to a malfunctioning time bomb, set to blow everything up with no clear countdown. Just for the Summer has plenty of humor (a scene with baby raccoons being a personal favorite), but the emotions are real. The turmoil is real. The problems the characters face don’t come with easy answers or magic cures.

The story showcases an absolutely gorgeous outpouring of love in tandem with Emma and Justin’s delightful and warm central romance. Jimenez portrays a range of complex, interesting familial relationships, as well as some amazing friendships—particularly Emma’s with her bestie, Maddy. In Just for the Summer, even when love is difficult and devastating and very possibly cursed, it’s always worth it.

In Abby Jimenez’s Just for the Summer, two people cursed a la “Good Luck Chuck” try to break their unlucky streaks by dating each other—only to fall in love.

How to End a Love Story, screenwriter Yulin Kuang’s debut novel, is a contemporary romance that succeeds on every level, from her characters’ compelling emotional journey to the unique plotline to Kuang’s fresh authorial voice.

Helen Zhang is the successful author of a young adult series that’s been optioned for television. Her work targets readers the same age she was when her sister, Michelle, died by suicide. Helen’s life, as one would expect, is split between the before and the after.

Grant Shepard’s life broke along the exact same fault line. A handsome, affable homecoming king and football star who went to the same school as the Zhang sisters, he was out driving late the night Michelle ran in front of his car. In the 13 years since the incident, Grant’s become a successful, sought-after screenwriter in Los Angeles. Imagine his surprise when he’s asked to lead the writer’s room on Helen’s new show. And then imagine her surprise when he says yes.

Yulin Kuang is so much more than Emily Henry’s screenwriter.

A romance between two people on opposite ends of the same tragic event, How to End a Love Story is a mature, compelling and relatable story of healing that resists simplifying its characters at every turn. Helen’s Chinese American heritage is richly depicted, and it shapes the relationships she has with her family (her mother, in particular), but it is not her sole defining trait. And while Grant may struggle with panic attacks and feeling worthy of love, he also works to convince Helen that it’s OK to move on with her life. Their relationship develops at an organic, realistic pace: Helen must first come to terms with the fact that she’s working with Grant at all before she can come to grips with liking him and, eventually, loving him.

Kuang’s own experiences as a screenwriter shine through on every page. Her depictions of writer’s rooms and meetings with executives are lush, smart and visual, with each sentence packed full of insightful nuances and quiet moments of reflection. These are characters who have battled their demons and come out the other side, stronger than before. Were this a movie, it would be Oscar-worthy.

How to End a Love Story is a mature, compelling and relatable romance that resists simplifying its characters at every turn.

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