Sarah McCraw Crow

In her debut essay collection, comedian and actor Natasha Leggero muses, often hilariously, about what it’s like to have a baby at 42 and find your way as a mom. “It’s hard raising a child with a man,” she writes in the opening essay of The World Deserves My Children. “One day I asked my husband to give the baby a bath. I came into the kitchen to find my daughter sitting in a sink full of dishes while my husband scrubbed her and a plate at the same time. Don’t use Dawn on her! She’s a baby not a duck after an oil spill. I would have to be very drunk to do any of that.” Leggero’s style is breezy, sometimes over-the-top, with punchline quips punctuating her anecdotes. She’s like the funny friend who’ll say anything after a cocktail or two.

Leggero details her grueling path to pregnancy and her first few years as a parent with humor and insight. She contrasts her own scrappy childhood in Rockford, Illinois, parented by a single mom who struggled to make ends meet, with the minute concerns of the uber-privileged Los Angeles parents she encounters as an adult. As in a stand-up routine, the essays digress, often charmingly, to memories of things like her dad’s family’s Italian Christmases. While some subjects will be familiar to parents—the difficulties of breastfeeding, the search for a preschool—the collection really hits its stride in the essays on discipline and fear. Leggero writes that, as a child, she was “pretty obnoxious and tended to say whatever popped into my head—sort of like a male comedian.” Unlike a male comedian, however, Leggero had to write “I will not disrespect my mother” a thousand times as punishment for “telling it like it is.” Noting the variety of permissive parenting styles she encounters in LA, Leggero says she strives for an approach to discipline that’s somewhere in the middle.

Near the collection’s end, Leggero includes a Q&A with her husband, Moshe Kasher, also a comedian. She asks him how they differ as parents and what he thinks of her as a mother, and his answers are funny and touching. The World Deserves My Children is a book with a lot of heart and even some wisdom, perfect for fans of Jessi Klein’s I’ll Show Myself Out.

In her debut essay collection, comedian and actor Natasha Leggero muses, often hilariously, about what it’s like to have a baby at 42.

As World War II recedes further into the past, Jonathan Freedland has revived one story from the Holocaust that’s both historically significant and a riveting read. Freedland, the author of several thrillers and a correspondent for The Guardian, writes with a novelist’s verve to tell the story of Rudolf Vrba, the first Jewish person to escape from Auschwitz.

The Escape Artist opens with Vrba (born Walter Rosenberg) and Fred Wetzler, another young prisoner, in the middle of an escape attempt. With the help of two other prisoners, Vrba and Wetzler climbed into a woodpile to hide, the first step in escaping the death camp. “For the teenage [Vrba], it was an exhilarating feeling—but not a wholly new one,” Freedland writes. “Because this was not his first escape. And it would not be his last.”

In the late 1930s, leaders in Slovakia seized Jews’ assets and steadily banned them from public life, including schools. Even so, a young Vrba taught himself new languages and learned chemistry from an illicit textbook. As deportation approached, Vrba tried to escape to England but landed in a transit camp. He escaped the camp, got captured again and was eventually sent to Auschwitz. The Nazis had convinced the deported Jews that they were merely being resettled, but once inside Auschwitz, Vrba began to understand the truth: The Nazis were methodically killing millions of Jewish people.

When Vrba was put to work in the section of Auschwitz that processed stolen Jewish belongings, he found a new level of corruption: The Nazis had stolen every material possession from each deported Jewish person, and SS guards were making deals with enslaved workers to keep certain valuables. The brutality and inhumanity of Nazis at every level is chilling and can make for difficult reading. At the same time, Freedland’s depth of research gives a more complete picture of Auschwitz, and Vrba’s inventiveness and ultimate escape from the camp, and his efforts to tell the world the truth about its horrors, make for a gripping narrative.

The book’s last section follows Vrba through his long postwar life in Canada, where he worked as a biochemistry professor at the University of British Columbia. Vrba wrote his own memoir in the 1960s, but now The Escape Artist vividly brings his story to a new generation of readers.

Jonathan Freedland tells the story of Rudolf Vrba, the first Jewish person to escape from Auschwitz, with a novelist's verve.

Like Dani Shapiro’s other novels and memoirs (most recently, Inheritance), Signal Fires is at its heart a family story, told in the gorgeous, evocative language she’s known for. 

The novel opens on an August night in 1985 Avalon, a pleasant New York suburb, with three teenagers (“good kids—everyone would say so”) in a car. At the wheel is 15-year-old Theo Wilf, who doesn’t yet have his license, and next to him is Misty Zimmerman, the girl he likes. In the back seat is Sarah, Theo’s 17-year-old sister. What should be a mere summertime joyride becomes a deadly accident, and although Sarah and Theo’s doctor father, Ben, is on the scene only a few minutes later, their family’s reality has already shifted. “Change one thing and everything changes,” Shapiro writes, indicating one of Signal Fires’ preoccupations: how one moment of trauma, added to one secret, will reverberate throughout multiple lives.  

The story shifts to a night in December 2010, when a much older Ben, his children long grown, notices that Waldo Shenkman, a boy who lives across the street, is still up, too late for a kid to be awake. Both are lonely—Benjamin’s wife, Mimi, has advanced dementia, and Waldo has trouble making friends—and the two connect over Waldo’s love of the constellations, which he views on his dad’s iPad. 

Signal Fires’ narrative is a fractured, prismatic one, moving mostly among these characters (Sarah, Theo, Ben, young Waldo and Waldo’s dad, known to the reader as Shenkman) and through time (forward to 2020, back to 2010, further back to 1985, up to 1999 and forward again), unraveling these characters’ mistakes and yearnings. Sarah and Theo have grown up and built successful careers, but both are inwardly roiling, estranged from themselves and from each other. And Shenkman, feeling an imposter in his own life, is alienating his wife and son.

Shapiro keeps the plates spinning, bouncing between time periods while moving the story forward, landing on key moments like New Year’s Eve 1999, a point of change and connection in the Shenkman and Wilf families. The novel’s narrative occasionally moves into a mystical mode, which feels a little out of place, but Signal Fires is mainly a meditation on families—the secrets we keep, the hurts we don’t mean to inflict—and how those secrets and hurts play out over time. And the novel’s action keeps pointing back to suburban Avalon, a place that both families call home for a time, making Signal Fires a bittersweet love letter to the suburbs. 

Signal Fires is mainly a meditation on families—the secrets we keep, the hurts we don’t mean to inflict—and how those secrets and hurts play out over time.

Long before she was the iconic Jackie Onassis, and more than a decade before she glamorized the role of first lady, Jacqueline Bouvier was a shy student at Vassar College. She’d grown up with extraordinary privilege—she was named “Queen Debutante” in 1947—yet she was already scarred: by her parents’ messy, public divorce; her mother’s rigid expectations; her stepfather’s varying fortunes; and her father’s depression. At 20, Jacqueline set off to Paris for a yearlong program. She lived with a genteel but threadbare French family in the 16th arrondissement, spoke only French, studied at the Sorbonne and Sciences Po, attended lectures and performances, and frequented Montparnasse cafes.  

Jacqueline’s transformative French year is the subject of Ann Mah’s Jacqueline in Paris. Narrated by an older Jackie, it’s a coming-of-age novel structured around the four quarters of the school year, beginning with Jacqueline’s six-week stay in Grenoble for immersion classes to prepare her for Paris. 

Once she gets acquainted with Paris and her French family, Jacqueline is quickly enchanted. Still, it’s only been a few years since World War II, so deprivation and shortages are widespread, coffee and sugar are still rationed, and political uncertainty lingers as the Cold War gets underway. And WWII had a serious effect on her host family: Her French mother, the Comtesse de Renty, worked underground in the French Resistance. Late in the war, an informant turned in the Comtesse and her husband, and both were sent to concentration camps, where her husband died.

Though Mah mainly remains true to the historical timeline, she adds intrigue and fizzy romance with a speculative connection to a young American writer, Jack Marquand. Jack is a Harvard man, handsome, talented, writing for the Atlantic and working on a book, though he also seems to carry a secret, or maybe several secrets. Jacqueline struggles to sort out what these secrets mean for him, and for her.

The novel’s narration is intimate, full of layered interiority about Jacqueline’s loneliness, her changing understanding of the world and her possible place within it. If Mah’s Jacqueline sometimes feels a little too perfect—sensitive to everyone around her, to Paris’ beauty and class details, and a little too witty for a 20-year-old—it’s a small quibble. The older Jackie’s narration also helps to make the younger more believable.

Jacqueline in Paris beautifully evokes postwar Paris. The details are exquisite (for instance, the lacy appearance of thinly sliced roast beef that’s been spoiled by worms), and Mah’s writing shines in its close attention to place and sensory details. In bringing Jacqueline Bouvier’s transformative Paris interlude to the page, Mah offers readers a lovely, immersive visit to a vanished city. 

CORRECTION: September 28, 2022
A previous version of this article misconstrued the amount of time between Jacqueline’s year abroad and her marriage to John F. Kennedy
. They were married four years later, in 1953.

In bringing Jacqueline Bouvier's transformative Paris interlude to the page, Ann Mah offers readers a lovely, immersive visit to a vanished city.

Whether you’re a brand-new parent to an infant or a grizzled veteran trying to get your teens to actually talk to you, some days you can’t help but wonder if you’re doing it all wrong. These parenting books are here to help.

Good Inside

Good Inside by Becky Kennedy

Becky Kennedy’s Good Inside: A Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to Be is the book I wish I’d had when my kids were little. Kennedy, a psychologist, argues for finding the good inside your child when they throw a tantrum or say they hate you. To start, we need a change in perspective, seeing our kids’ behavior as clues to what they need rather than who they are. Using anecdotes from clients and her own family, Kennedy decodes behaviors (lying, squabbling, perfectionism) and offers connection strategies for each. When a parent strengthens their relationship with their child, she writes, they’ll see improved behavior and cooperation. Kennedy also shows how parents can help kids name their emotions. “The wider the range of feelings we can regulate—if we can manage the frustration, disappointment, envy, and sadness—the more space we have to cultivate happiness,” she writes. It’s a warm, good-humored book.

How to Raise an Intuitive Eater

How to Raise an Intuitive Eater by Sumner Brooks and Amee Severson

Food is a common battleground for parents and kids at all stages. Sumner Brooks and Amee Severson’s How to Raise an Intuitive Eater: Raising the Next Generation With Food and Body Confidence link those family battles to diet culture, the messages about weight and appearance that we’re all bombarded with. They connect diet culture, including medical messaging, to shame, mental illness and negativity about food and the body. Eating disorders, the authors note, are among the mental illnesses that are hardest to treat. The good news is that kids are born intuitive eaters, their brains and bodies wired to know when and how much to eat. To build an intuitive eating family framework, the authors offer strategies such as their “add-in, pressure-off” approach: Instead of limiting foods, or labeling some foods bad and others good, focus on adding more variety. And instead of rules and commentary (“You must eat two bites!” “I can’t believe you’re not eating that!”), focus on providing the meal and letting the child decide how much to eat. Though sometimes dense, How to Raise an Intuitive Eater is a thoughtful and comprehensive resource.

The Teen Interpreter

The Teen Interpreter by Terri Apter

In The Teen Interpreter: A Guide to the Challenges and Joys of Raising Adolescents, England-based psychologist and researcher Terri Apter aims to help parents engage with their teens’ struggles. “Try to see what your teen is seeing; try to understand what your teen is feeling,” Apter writes. Drawing on 35 years of studying teens and families, Apter describes some of the biggest challenges for teens and parents through the lens of teen brain development. As the teen brain remodels itself, changing dramatically, so do teens’ relationships, behavior, sense of identity and emotional responses (outbursts, rudeness, grumpy silences). Sometimes it can be tough to decipher what’s normal teen behavior and what might be mental illness, Apter notes. Throughout, The Teen Interpreter threads together research and teens’ stories, along with exercises for parents to communicate better and build stronger relationships with their teens, which in turn can help teens build resiliency through the challenging teen years and into young adulthood. It’s a clear and reassuring guide.

The Sleep-Deprived Teen

The Sleep-Deprived Teen by Lisa L. Lewis

In The Sleep-Deprived Teen: Why Our Teenagers Are So Tired, and How Parents and Schools Can Help Them Thrive, journalist Lisa L. Lewis lays out why sleep matters to teens’ well-being: A lack of sleep affects their mental health, their ability to learn and play sports, and their behavior. But paradoxically, it’s tough for teens to get a good night’s sleep (8 to 10 hours) because their body clocks have shifted; they’re biologically primed to wake later in the morning and fall asleep later at night. The Sleep-Deprived Teen opens with the story of the first teen sleep studies at Stanford University, emphasizing how little experts knew about sleep and the teen brain until recently. As the parent of a teen, Lewis helped get the first law in the country passed requiring later school start times. Since then, studies have found that teens who start school later are more likely to show up at school and do better on standardized tests, and less likely to get into car crashes or trouble after school. The last chapters of Lewis’ book even offer a map for parents aiming to change school start times in their own districts.

Raising Antiracist Children

Raising Antiracist Children by Britt Hawthorne

Antiracist and anti-bias educator Britt Hawthorne is also a home-schooling mom of multiracial children, and she draws on research, teaching and her own family’s experiences in Raising Antiracist Children: A Practical Parenting Guide. “Instead of viewing antiracism as a destination,” Hawthorne writes, “see it as a consistent, active practice: a lifestyle.” Part primer, part workbook with activities for different age groups, Raising Antiracist Children breaks down concepts like bias and white immunity to help parents initiate, rather than avoid, conversations on race. If you’re the parent of a child of color, the book can help you encourage their self-confidence. If you’re a white parent, the book can help you see aspects of racism you might not have seen before (for instance, the way our culture assumes white skin is the default). The book’s principles reflect a broader parenting philosophy that includes setting healthy boundaries, building community and following your child’s desire to learn. “Embracing your children’s curiosity will support them in becoming open-minded, science-driven, and empathetic,” Hawthorne writes. “Differences do not divide us, it’s our fear and unfair treatment of differences that do.”

Reading for Our Lives

Reading for Our Lives by Maya Payne Smart

The introduction to Maya Payne Smart’s Reading for Our Lives: A Literacy Action Plan From Birth to Six makes note of a quiet crisis: American basic literacy rates are weak compared to those in other industrialized nations. Parents want to raise readers, but they may not know what to do beyond reading aloud to their children before bed. Reading for Our Lives aims to change that. The book first maps out the milestones and skills—oral language, sound and print awareness, letter knowledge, phonics and spelling—that lead to reading. Smart then offers a range of strategies, games and play suggestions that help parents build those skills organically. For instance, with babies, parents can converse in a number of ways: talk, then pause to listen to their coos; ask them questions; label everyday objects for them. With older kids, parents can play “I spy” with sounds, not just colors. (“I spy something that rhymes with tike.”) Smart’s book is an empowering manual for readers and their kids.

Staying connected with your child makes a difference at every stage. These empowering guides show you how.

Jessie Burton returns to the world of her atmospheric novel The Miniaturist with a sequel, The House of Fortune, set in 1705 Amsterdam.

First, a little about The Miniaturist, which introduces readers to Nella Brandt when she’s 18 years old. Recently married to a trader named Johannes, Nella is a country girl who feels out of place in Amsterdam, a powerful international trade center with a gossipy, moralistic core. Nella finds Johannes and the rest of her new family—sister-in-law Marin, servant Otto and cook Cornelia—to be confusing and distant. As a distraction, Johannes gives Nella a cabinet house, a miniature version of their home, which she furnishes by ordering from a miniaturist. The miniaturist, in turn, conveys that she knows secrets about Nella’s new family, a menacing development.

The House of Fortune picks up the story nearly two decades later, opening on the 18th birthday of Thea, daughter of Otto and Marin, who died in childbirth. By now, Thea’s aunt, Nella, is a longtime widow, and Otto is the head of the household. Thea is obsessed with the theater, spending as much time as she can at the city’s playhouse with her actor friend Rebecca and new love, Walter, a set painter. 

But the Brandt household is in trouble: Otto has lost his job in the Dutch East India Company—as a Black man, he was never allowed to rise to a decent position—and Nella must sell off the house’s paintings and furniture to pay expenses. Nella believes the family’s best hope is for Thea to marry a man with a fortune, but as a biracial young woman in white merchant-class Amsterdam, Thea’s marriage prospects are uncertain. Rounding out the cast are botanist Caspar Witsen, socialite Clara Sarragon and the mysterious miniaturist, who once again watches the Brandt family, this time focusing on Thea.  

The story alternates between Nella’s and Thea’s perspectives. Nella worries about Thea’s future while considering her own past, particularly when she left home for the city. Thea schemes to follow Walter wherever he may be heading next, but she also yearns to understand the broodings of her secretive father and aunt, and their reasons for never talking about Marin or Johannes.

Throughout The House of Fortune, Burton beautifully evokes golden-age Amsterdam. It’s as though she has seamlessly incorporated aspects of memorable Dutch still lifes, portraits and landscape paintings into the narrative. If The House of Fortune doesn’t feature quite the same level of sinister gothic atmosphere and suspenseful plotting as The Miniaturist, it’s still a satisfying family drama.

Jessie Burton beautifully evokes golden-age Amsterdam in her sequel to The Miniaturist.

In 1838, the French novelist George Sand (pen name for Aurore Dupin) decided that a winter away from Paris would be good for her, her two children and her ailing lover, Frederic Chopin, who had tuberculosis. The group landed on the island of Majorca, taking rooms at a defunct monastery, the Charterhouse, in the remote village of Valldemossa. (Sand wrote about their stay in a travel memoir titled A Winter in Majorca.) 

This is where Briefly, a Delicious Life, the debut novel from Nell Stevens (author of the memoir Bleaker House), begins. “Of course, it wasn’t the first time I’d seen two men kissing,” narrator Blanca says in the novel’s first line, describing when George arrives at the monastery dressed in her usual men’s suit and kisses Chopin. “It was 1838 and I had been at the Charterhouse in Valldemossa for over three centuries by then.” 

Blanca is a ghost, a 14-year-old girl who died almost 400 years earlier. She has lurked in Valldemossa, and in particular at the Charterhouse, ever since, pestering badly behaved monks and trying to protect her long line of granddaughters and great-great-great-granddaughters. But her descendants have almost died out, the monks have gone, and Blanca is lonely. When the Parisian group arrives, Blanca instantly falls in love with George. 

Blanca has a very long memory, but her voice is fresh. She’s often funny, sometimes enraged, full of longing—an all-too-human ghost. She can insinuate herself into people’s heads and bodies, experiencing sensory pleasures like the taste of an orange or the feel of a kiss. She can access people’s memories and see their futures, which helps to give the novel its structure, as the story moves between past and present. 

Throughout their haphazard sojourn, George stays up late into the night writing and smoking cigars, and Chopin lingers at the piano, coughing and working on his preludes. But unlike George and Chopin, Blanca knows that the conservative Valldemossan villagers are suspicious of the Parisian visitors’ unconventional ways, and that their visit may end badly. Along the way are sections from George’s memories, as interpreted by Blanca—a youthful crush, an early marriage, attempts to find her way as a female writer in a man’s world—and from Blanca’s own past, her short life and doomed teenage romance in the late 15th century. 

Briefly, a Delicious Life is an inventive, imaginative approach to historical fiction, full of comic moments but also sorrow, violence and beauty. If the novel’s narrative drive is sometimes uneven, that’s a small quibble. Blanca, though a ghost, is full of life, a wonderful guide to another time and place.

Nell Stevens offers an inventive, imaginative approach to historical fiction, full of comic moments but also sorrow, violence and beauty. Her ghostly narrator is full of life, a wonderful guide to another time and place.

Ellyn Gaydos’ meditative Pig Years mixes memoir and nature writing as it details her four years of seasonal farm work in New York and Vermont. In punishingly long days as a farmhand, she planted seeds, tended vegetable plots (weeding, watering, coping with pests, harvesting, sorting and selling) and raised chickens and pigs. The book opens right in the middle of things, describing the pigs on a small farm in New Lebanon, New York, and zooming in to consider Gumdrop, an accidentally pregnant pig, and her piglets, who “came out like torpedoes all attached through different stems to one briny umbilical cord. . . . Nature, being unsentimental, accommodates the reality that some sows eat their young, but Gumdrop is gentle in her new domesticity, tenderly positioning her body so as not to squish anyone. She is a good mother.”

The book’s loose narrative proceeds chronologically through the seasons, and through Gaydos’ relationships with other farmworkers and with Graham, her partner. Gaydos’ close eye on the natural world allows us to vividly see the cycle of a farm’s blossoming and dying seasons. She doesn’t look away from any part of it, either from newborn pig life, for instance, or from the pigs’ later deaths—the procedures of slaughter and the preparation of the pork that she will eat and sell. “I keep seeing death’s face in different ways,” she writes. “It is funny to choose a profession, like farming, in which death is taken into the fold and yet nothing is clarified. It does not steady me for loss even if I have held a pig’s head in my hand or seen a chicken collapsed in the dirt. It is like a blunting of the real.”

The bulk of Pig Years takes place on the farm in New Lebanon, which is part of a former Shaker settlement that’s now a Sufi commune in decline. Throughout the book, Gaydos turns to 19th-century Shaker farm journals for comparison, and we can see the similarities between the current-day farm’s gains and losses and those of the long-ago Shakers. There’s a coming-of-age aspect to Pig Years, too, as Gaydos, a young woman in an unsettled phase of life (and an inherently impermanent field of work), studies the women and moms around her. She reflects on her own path, imagining possible futures as a parent and life partner.

Gaydos’ cleareyed, sometimes intense perspective reminds us that farm work is not always pretty: It often involves constant near-poverty, injuries, even desperation. Still, Pig Years is a poetic meditation on fertility, loss and the farmworkers who eke out a marginal living as long as they can. It’s a narrative that evokes the pleasures and perils of life and work on a small farm.

Ellyn Gaydos’ debut memoir, Pig Years, is a poetic meditation on fertility, loss and the pleasures and perils of life and work on a small farm.

To the 21st-century reader, Joan of Arc may feel faraway and quaint, like a figure in an ancient stained-glass window. And yet the martyr’s name calls up an array of familiar mythic images: a pious, perhaps delusional 15th-century French maiden visited by visions and voices, a young woman with a sword in her hand, in a time of endless war between France and England.

Katherine J. Chen’s second novel, Joan, leaves behind the pious maiden and her visions and voices. Chen’s reimagined Joan is hungry, earthy and scrappy—a natural fighter. What drives Joan isn’t the voice of God but the destruction of her village by brutal English soldiers, along with an intensely personal loss. The novel follows Joan’s trajectory from lowly peasant to confidant of Charles VII (the Dauphin and dispossessed heir to the French throne) to leader of the French army and sudden folk hero.

When we first meet Joan, she’s a child observing other children fight in her tiny village of Donrémy. Joan is brutalized by her physically abusive father, but she has the love of her elder sister, Catherine, and best friend, Hauviette, and an easy friendship with her uncle, Durand Laxart. Durand, “a thinker, a teller of stories, a wanderer,” teaches Joan about the larger world, equipping her for life beyond her village.

By 17, Joan is strong, taller than most men and a quick study. As word of her abilities spreads to the French court, Yolande of Aragon, the Dauphin’s mother-in-law, offers Joan a kind of patronage, dressing her in a man’s velvet doublet. “This suits you,” Yolande says. “One must wear the clothes for which one is built. And you must put on the mantle of God.” Thus attired, Joan sets out to meet the Dauphin and persuade him that she will lead an army to take back the city of Orléans.

Joan traces the woman’s quick rise and sudden fall, propelled by battles in which she shows almost supernatural powers. Chen’s often-gorgeous prose moves smoothly from Joan’s village to the luxurious, treacherous French court. Throughout, Joan’s musings on the hampered roles of women and peasants in a disorganized, beleaguered France are progressive yet still historically believable.

The novel features a large cast of characters, listed at the book’s opening, and occasionally I had to turn to the list to remind myself about a character. For readers who love Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy or Lauren Groff’s Matrix, Joan offers similar pleasures with its immediacy and somewhat contemporary tone. It’s an immersive evocation of a character whose name everyone knows, all these centuries later, but whom, perhaps, none of us knows at all.

Katherine J. Chen’s Joan leaves behind the pious maiden, her visions and voices. This Joan of Arc is hungry, earthy and scrappy—a natural fighter.

As This Time Tomorrow opens, Alice Stern is about to turn 40, and her life is mostly fine—not great, but fine. She works in the admissions office of the private school she once attended, she has a boyfriend and a handful of good friends, and she’s content to live alone in her basement studio in Brooklyn. But one aspect that’s not fine is Alice’s dad, Leonard, who’s dying. Leonard is essentially Alice’s only family, and she spends all of her free time visiting the unconscious Leonard in the hospital.

Late on the night of Alice’s birthday, something mysterious happens, and when she wakes the next morning, she’s 16 years old and in her childhood home. With the help of her longtime best friend, Sam, who was with Alice on her original 16th birthday, Alice begins to puzzle out her new reality.

What follows is a time-travel story that blends aspects of other time-travel and time-loop stories, such as the movies Peggy Sue Got Married and Groundhog Day, which Alice references as she unravels her own mystery. The novel lays the groundwork for its more fantastical elements by situating Alice in a storybook setting: She grew up in a small house on Pomander Walk, a tiny hidden neighborhood of Tudor-style houses on New York City’s Upper West Side. When Alice was little, Leonard wrote a time-travel novel, Time Brothers, a mega-bestseller that spawned a much-loved TV series. He never published another book, but instead devoted himself to caring for Alice and attending fan conventions, where he and his writer friends debated fictional time travel.

While This Time Tomorrow is propelled by Alice’s quest to figure out what happened and learn what she can about her dad’s illness, it’s also a dual coming-of-age story. The novel’s more meditative passages convey Alice’s midlife regrets, her loneliness at being left behind by the friends who’ve married and had children, her yearning for something beyond the life she’s made and her grief and love for her dying dad.

Like Alice, author Emma Straub is a New York City native whose father is a well-known novelist. With wonderful place details, This Time Tomorrow evokes the Upper West Side of the 1990s and offers some sly observations on class, especially the subtle gradations between New York’s merely privileged and its ultra-privileged. Alice’s high school scenes are sprinkled with ’90s music and pop culture references, which will be especially enjoyable for millennial readers.

This Time Tomorrow’s many references to other time-travel stories occasionally stray into metafictional territory, but ultimately it’s a story with a lot of heart, some satisfying plot twists and a bittersweet, open-ended finale.

Emma Straub’s time-travel novel has a lot of heart, some satisfying plot twists and a bittersweet, open-ended finale.

David Sedaris’ latest essay collection, Happy-Go-Lucky, finds the author in late midlife, mining his life, the lives of his family—including his longtime boyfriend, Hugh, his siblings and his 98-year-old dad—and their surroundings for comedic stories. In the book’s opening essay, “Active Shooter,” Sedaris and his sister Lisa visit a firing range in North Carolina, which offers him a chance to plunge into the oddities of gun culture as they learn to shoot pistols. It’s a perfect David Sedaris essay: one that lures you in with funny family anecdotes and self-deprecation, gives a sideways look at some aspect of society, then ends with an unexpected emotional punch. This essay, like several others here, also offers deft, sharp commentary on masculinity. One of the collection’s delights is a commencement address delivered at Oberlin College that skates along on the surface with funny throwaway lines and ridiculousness while offering slyly sensible life advice underneath.

The collection progresses somewhat chronologically, beginning with essays that look back to Sedaris’ childhood and to his young adult years when he was writing plays with his sister Amy in New York City. Later essays recount Sedaris’ experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, walking New York’s empty streets and wondering if his livelihood—reading works-in-progress to audiences all over the country—is gone for good. But in 2021, he returned to the road in a changed America, making pointed observations about different states’ vastly different approaches to the pandemic along the way.

These essays offer plenty of laughs, but the tone is often dark as Sedaris contemplates his dad’s failings, and his own. “I’m the worst son in the world,” Sedaris jokes to a nursing home aide about not visiting his dad more often. At first these confessions feel callous, but as the essays reveal more about his dad’s abusive, competitive behavior, such remarks take on a different feel. In “Unbuttoned,” I teared up at Sedaris’ evocation of both the pain of such abuse and the unexpected moment of connection between the two men at the end of the elder Sedaris’ life.

Happy-Go-Lucky is an entertaining collection, both cringey and poignant as it celebrates love, family and even aging in an inimitably Sedaris way.

Happy-Go-Lucky is both entertaining and poignant as it celebrates love, family and even aging in an inimitably David Sedaris way.

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