Shakespeare’s Juliet famously pondered, “What’s in a name?” and although she may have concluded that names fail to reflect any intrinsic qualities of a person, the protagonist of Jessica George’s compassionate debut novel, Maame, knows better. Dubbed “Maame” by her mother as a baby, Madeline Wright has struggled with the weight of her nickname her entire life. The seemingly innocuous five-letter Twi word is heavy with multiple meanings: “the responsible one,” “the mother,” “the woman.”
Now in her 20s, Maddie believes that her life in London has well and truly stalled. In order to keep her family afloat, she works as a personal assistant, performing soul-crushing drudge work in offices where she is often the only Black person. When she’s not at work, she cares for her father, who has Parkinson’s disease, because her mother spends most of the year back in Ghana, only checking in to ask for money or hound Maddie about when she plans on getting married. Maddie’s older brother is never around and rarely takes her calls. So at the tender age of 25, Maddie has never had sex, still lives at home and finds herself wondering if her mother’s pet name was meant as a term of endearment or a curse.
When her mother unexpectedly returns to England, Maddie takes the chance to stretch her wings, fly the nest and reinvent herself. With plenty of growing pains along the way, Maddie navigates flat-sharing, new friendships, online dating and sex, racism, career changes and grief. Slowly, she transforms from a sheltered girl who had adulthood prematurely thrust upon her into a woman of her own making.
Masterfully balancing comedy, tragedy and tenderness, Maame is a nuanced and powerful coming-of-age story. George candidly captures the false starts, heartbreak and awkwardness of early adulthood with empathy and a necessary dose of humor. Maddie easily joins the highest ranks of memorable and lovable “hot mess” characters. Like Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones, Candice Carty-Williams’ Queenie Jenkins and Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant before her, Maddie is a good reminder that through all of life’s hardships, we can be the authors of our own happy endings, and it is never too late to become who you might have been.
Like Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones, Candice Carty-Williams’ Queenie Jenkins and Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant, Maddie is a good reminder that we can be the authors of our own happy endings, and it is never too late to become who you might have been.
An exhilarating work of experimental metafiction, The Unfortunates is a novel masquerading as a senior thesis (complete with footnotes) meant to unmask the injustices, microaggressions, hypocrisy and racism experienced by nonwhite students at an unnamed upper-tier college in the Midwest.
Sahara Kesandu Nwadike, the protagonist of J K Chukwu’s brazen and bold debut novel, is a living, breathing poster girl for the “sophomore slump.” Already exhausted following her first year of college, Sahara decides to jump ahead to her senior thesis and begins to document the reality of being Black on campus. A troubling number of Black students (dubbed “the Unfortunates” by their Black peers that remain) have disappeared, dropped out or died. Grappling with a “D” of her own—depression—Sahara secretly aspires to join the ranks of the Unfortunates before the academic year is done, frequently fantasizing about how she’ll end her suffering and finally silence the voice in her head that has been with her since childhood. The voice, which Sahara has nicknamed LP, short for “Life Partner,” insists that she is not good enough, a message that’s reinforced by the majority of her peers, professors and family. She’s not smart enough, not straight enough, not rich enough, not skinny enough, not Nigerian enough.
But even if Sahara really is useless, she feels she cannot end her life without doing one thing that truly matters. So she writes about the mental toll of being at the university and skewers the performative allyship, the racial inequalities in health care access and treatment, and the white supremacy tacitly condoned by the university. She bares her soul and shares all the things no one else wants to hear. Finally, her own voice—her rage—will be heard.
The Unfortunates is an electrifying read that’s meant to disrupt and disturb; as a result, it can be deeply uncomfortable and disheartening. Yet despite the novel’s sobering subject matter, it is not devoid of hope or humor. Much to her credit, Chukwu punctuates Sahara’s despair with witty turns of phrase and wordplay to keep readers from spiraling into an existential crisis of their own.
While refusing to gloss over the bitter realities of the Black experience in modern America, Chukwu has written a tale about how those who “[live] in a school—no, state—no, country that hates—no, kills—no, destroys, so much of us” are still able to survive. The Unfortunates is a powerful call to arms by a promising young writer who is not afraid to take risks, and for that we are very fortunate indeed.
The Unfortunates is a powerful call to arms by a promising young writer who is not afraid to take risks, and for that we are very fortunate indeed.
For most, the term doula is associated with the process of childbirth and bringing new life into the world. However, beginning in the early 2000s, the death doula began to gain attention within American popular knowledge. These individuals perform a similar function to their birthing counterparts but instead focus on ushering people through the dying process and providing end-of-life support. Mikki Brammer’s gentle and uplifting debut novel, The Collected Regrets of Clover, takes readers into the fascinating world of one particularly memorable death doula and serves as a potent reminder that the secret to a beautiful death is to live a beautiful life.
Clover Brooks has always had an affinity for death, having lost both her parents at the age of 6 and later deciding to pursue a graduate degree in thanatology, the scientific study of death and dying. When her beloved grandfather dies, Clover decides to pay tribute to him by working as a death doula to provide companionship to others during their final days.
Part of Clover’s job involves recording her clients’ final words, which she catalogs in one of three private notebooks: Regrets, Advice or Confessions. Most people’s dying revelations tend to fall into the Regrets category, and if Clover were honest with herself, she has more than enough regrets to fill an entire notebook on her own. Perhaps her biggest is that she has spent so much time honoring the lives of others that she has forgotten how to live her own life to the fullest.
All this changes when she forms an unexpected connection with her latest client, an indomitable woman named Claudia. Clover finds herself on a cross-country trip with Claudia’s grandson, searching for Claudia’s secret lost love. Along the way, Clover questions whether she has the courage to truly start living on her own terms and begin whittling down her stack of regrets while she still has the chance.
Like all the best fiction that centers on death, The Collected Regrets of Clover inspires its readers to ask, in the spirit of Mary Oliver, “What is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” Although not subtle in its messaging, Brammer’s novel is a comforting exploration of grief, love and human connection that is sure to appeal to fans of books that feel like a warm hug, like The Midnight Library by Matt Haig, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes.
Mikki Brammer’s gentle and uplifting debut novel takes readers into the fascinating world of a death doula and serves as a potent reminder that the secret to a beautiful death is to live a beautiful life.
Over the course of his career, Dominic Smith has demonstrated that his favorite playground as a writer is the past. With his sixth novel, Return to Valetto, Smith doesn’t break from his successful formula but instead perfects what he did so well with his award-winning 2016 book, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, delivering a charming and captivating multigenerational family drama that beautifully blends the past with the present.
Smith whisks readers away to Valetto, Italy: a fictional, crumbling town that floats like an island in the clouds among the rolling hills of the Umbrian countryside. Although the setting sounds like something out of a fairy tale, Valetto has been in steady decline, with earthquakes and other natural disasters having driven away most of its inhabitants.
Hugh Fisher spent most of his childhood summers in Valetto, but when he returns decades later (now a historian and a grieving widower) to visit his aunts and celebrate his grandmother’s 100th birthday, the town has but 10 permanent residents—plus one unexpected new addition. The stone cottage that Hugh’s late mother bequeathed him has been claimed by an inscrutable woman named Elisa Tomassi, who insists that Hugh’s grandfather promised her family the cottage as a show of gratitude for sheltering him while he fought in World War II. As Hugh attempts to validate Elisa’s claims, his forays into the past uncover a terrible secret involving both his and Elisa’s mothers. It’s a bombshell that, once detonated, reverberates across generations and will have consequences that are felt far beyond the walls of Valetto.
With Return to Valetto, Smith doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he doesn’t need to: He is a master of his trade who has executed a flawless novel that satisfies on all counts. The writing is both accessible and evocative, the pace leisurely yet suspenseful, the characters and plot are intriguing, and the themes of grief, generational trauma and resilience are well considered. Smith has the authorial confidence to resist the urge to overcomplicate his novel, delivering a straightforward narrative with a nostalgic tone and classic style that cleverly match the subject material and setting. The result is a richly rewarding book that is imbued with a sense of timelessness. It’s an outright pleasure to read, an excellent choice for both armchair travelers looking to vicariously experience Italy’s dolce vita, and for lovers of impeccably crafted literary fiction.
With Return to Valetto, Dominic Smith doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he doesn’t need to: He is a master of his trade who has executed a flawless novel that satisfies on all counts.
Trust a poet to know the power of words. And Elizabeth Acevedo is not just any poet: She’s a National Poetry Slam champ as well as a highly acclaimed writer of young adult novels. (Her debut work of fiction, The Poet X, won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2018.) Now Acevedo delivers her first work of literature aimed at adults, a magical family saga revolving around a fantastic group of Dominican American women.
All but one of the four Marte sisters and their daughters were born with special gifts, but it is the ability of second-eldest daughter Flor that has always been the most unsettling. From an early age, Flor has foreseen people’s deaths in her dreams. So when Flor announces that she’s throwing a living wake for herself, it sends the family into an escándalo. Even as they band together to prepare for Flor’s big day, they can’t help but worry that they’ll be losing one of their own very soon.
Told in various styles and from the perspectives of each of the sisters as well as Flor’s daughter and niece, Family Lore chronicles the tumultuous days leading up to the celebration, slowly unearthing the secrets and private pains each of these women has held tight over the years. The narrative flits back and forth in time, hopscotching through the women’s girlhoods and current struggles, heartbreaks and triumphs, while also shuttling readers between New York City and the Dominican Republic. Initially, the shifts between places and perspectives are discombobulating, but it doesn’t take long to settle into the rhythm of the narrative, thanks to Acevedo’s playful yet admirably honest prose and her skillful balancing of character introspection with plot.
This deeply personal work blurs fact and fiction in the most exquisite way. Although its inspiration comes from her own family and experiences, Acevedo stresses in her author’s letter that Family Lore is neither autobiographical nor based in fact, but that doesn’t mean that what’s contained within its pages is not profoundly true. Tricky construction and magical realist elements aside, Acevedo has laid herself bare in Family Lore as both a creator and as a person, which makes this not just her bravest book to date but perhaps also her best.
Photo of Elizabeth Acevedo by Denzel Golatt.
Elizabeth Acevedo has laid herself bare in Family Lore as both a creator and as a person, which makes this not just her bravest book to date but perhaps also her best.
With Family Lore, a magical saga centered on a family of Dominican American women, Elizabeth Acevedo takes greater narrative risks, reaches deeper into family dynamics and finds an expansive new register for her astonishing storytelling.
Your first book, The Poet X, won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. What did that accolade mean to you as a writer, and how did it change your career? I don’t think I fully appreciated at the time the kind of propulsion that a major award like the NBA can have on someone’s career. It put my work under a particular kind of scrutiny. I’ve always wanted my next work to be better than my last, but it’s hard to hold every future book to the success of my debut. My debut achieved accolades I may never see again. That’s just the truth of it.
But I still have a lot of stories to tell. I’ve had to put in effort to be unswayed by external validation as it pertains to any projects since. What I’m currently making doesn’t grow under the shadow of what my first book did, and it’s been critical I don’t make comparisons. I will forever be grateful to the judges of the National Book Award and the merit they saw in The Poet X. It’s not hyperbole to say that award changed the course of my life because of the doors it opened.
“Poems are like cats. . . . Maybe they want to be in the same room as you, but they’re fine in the corner by themselves, and when they eventually want attention, they’ll piss on your bed and let you know.”
You’re known not only for your novels but also for your poetry. What do you feel you’re able to achieve with poetry that you can’t with fiction? What does the format of a novel allow you that poetry doesn’t? Ah! I love this question. I think poetry is interesting for me because it’s my most patient kind of writing. I don’t believe in rushing a poem. It can arrive over long lengths of time, one line on one day, an image on another. Poems are a way of thinking, and I don’t have to turn to paper right away for them to begin composition. Poems are like cats. They are independent, OK being alone for a while. Maybe they want to be in the same room as you, but they’re fine in the corner by themselves, and when they eventually want attention, they’ll piss on your bed and let you know. Poems are great containers for an urgent and visceral moment and emotion. I need to shift how I see the world to give language to a poem.
The novel, however, requires me to sit with the character and actions daily. To catch the rhythm of the story, I have to show up again and again, or I lose the thread. The novel doesn’t tolerate being ghosted. I need to pet it daily or it’ll run away. I like that novels allow for ensemble truth-telling. I think that’s what I most often chase in a story—the many versions of honesty and humanity that can exist in one specific world, in one specific moment in time.
You’ve made it clear that one of the most important things for you to capture as a writer is what is true, even if it isn’t the literal truth. Can you expand on this? In my writing, I’m less concerned with how certain actions happened than I am with the feelings that said actions caused, and how these feelings change the arc of how someone thinks of themselves or others. My stories are trying to capture the fault lines in everyday people and how those cracks occurred and whether or not they can be mended. But I don’t think truth is singular or linear. It’s an assemblage of experiences and interconnections where we make meaning. Sometimes folks try to preserve a memory in amber, and it can be a defining memory, but then you speak to the other party of that experience (if there is one) and they have a wholly different way of seeing the world. Memory is messy. How do we make sense of the distance between when something happened and where we are now, when we might have new information about ourselves and the world? That space is where I want to write into as I mine human dynamics.
Your previous work has been written for young adult readers. What was your first experience writing a novel meant for adults like? Are there any ways in which writing for adults versus teenagers posed new challenges (or afforded new opportunities)? I like to think of my writing as having different registers. I don’t think the note where my writing is located has changed; I write family stories about messy parents and children and the aspirations of immigrant and first-gen folks to find purpose and self-love. At least I think I do. But the register for the adult novel climbed a bit higher. It let me be spicier in terms of how I discuss sexuality and sexual experiences.
On a formal level, there are ambitions in how Family Lore is constructed that I think would have been a huge ask for young adult readers: time jumps, long asides that break up the narrative, six characters in close third-person, a first-person point-of-view narrator, poetry, historical research. While I like to challenge my younger readers, I’m mindful of still being welcoming. I know I’m requiring adults to do a lot of work in Family Lore, and I’m less concerned with them finding it too hard. The book won’t be easily consumed by folks who don’t do the work.
In your author’s note, you mention that you hate the idea of defining the purpose of a book (or what it is “about”) before you’ve actually written it. For you, the act of writing is what allows the purpose or meaning of a story to come to light. Were there any moments while writing this novel when you found yourself surprised or staggered by something you put on the page or how the story evolved? I think wanting to be delighted by where the writing goes is one of the reasons I struggle with plot. Even if I have an idea of the pivotal events, I discover so much while getting the characters from one place of action to the next. Often my favorite parts of the novel are those in-between moments I hadn’t accounted for. In Family Lore I don’t think I realized how much the love and protection between the women was going to be central. In many ways, romantic love fails or is incomplete for the majority of the characters. But the sibling and cousin dynamics offer a tenderness and safety net where romantic love falls apart. I needed to write these women’s sometimes bumbling efforts to show up for one another to realize that they are the love they’ve been striving for.
There are, of course, lines and ideas that I didn’t know I’d have before I began writing. I had a myomectomy in 2021 that left me feeling alien in my body. In the novel, the character Ona has a myomectomy, but as I was writing her, I began to touch on light and what it means for light to enter a body where incisions were made. It’s not how I’d thought of surgery myself. But in her voice, I arrived at a new lens of considering what had gone wrong—and right—in my own fibroid removal. Moments like that happened a lot. I think I’ll know what I feel about something, but then the character twists the event in their own mouth, and I need to make room for a new way of approaching the narrative.
The topic of family dynamics, particularly between sisters and mothers and daughters, is one that you’ve explored in several of your novels, including Family Lore. What is it about female family relationships that fascinates you so much, and why do you think they have such universal appeal and resonance among readers? I write what haunts me. The family I come from and the families I grew up around—including extended family—practiced a good amount of enmeshment. In trying to piece apart my self-identity and self-worth, I had to undo threads that bound me to others. It was—and is—garbage dumpster work. It’s sifting through so much junk I carry that doesn’t innately belong to me. It’s reconsidering what it means to be a part of a community for yourself, not how perfectly you can perform yourself. I still don’t recognize sometimes how I’m thinking of every single person in my life and whether or not they’ll approve. So my novels agitate these webs because my mind agitates those webs. I think what Family Lore does that’s special is it reaches farther back than any of my other books to show historically how these dynamics of dysfunction were created within a family and are being undone or at least questioned.
One core feature of Family Lore is that nearly all of the women exhibit a preternaturally special talent or skill, from being able to foresee death to having an irresistible way with limes. If you could grant yourself with a special ability, what would it be and why?
I used to say teleportation would be the superpower I would want, but I think that’s when I had permeable boundaries and an inability to say no to things when all I wanted was to stay my ass at home. I was very much into hustle early in my career. I was holding a hot iron and striking my little heart away. It was exhausting to feel like my professional success had an expiration date, and my desire for teleportation was often because I was traveling so extensively that I was missing a lot of important moments with family and friends.
These days I would want the ability to fall asleep instantaneously. My anxiety is always worse at night, and my anxiety worsens the less sleep I have—it’s a conundrum. Being able to turn the light switch off in my brain and have deep, restorative rest seems like it’d be such a subtle but game-changing talent—much like the quiet magic of the women in the novel.
You’ve revealed that Family Lore is perhaps your bravest novel. In what ways did writing this novel require exceptional courage from you? I touch on a lot of taboo and sacrilegious subjects in the novel. And while the novel intentionally meanders structurally, I’m very direct in how things like porn addiction, infidelity, emotional abuse and sex are approached. I think this book is demonstrative of my being less concerned with being liked, or with earning love, and more of my groundedness in what needs to be said in this particular moment. To say that which only I can say, even if it offends someone or causes them to see me as less than perfect. So yes, maybe it’s the book I’ve written most bravely.
Without giving too much away (and echoing something you mention in your author’s letter), the finale of Family Lore feels as much like a beginning as it does an ending. Could you see yourself revisiting these women again in the future and continuing their saga? Ah! I love the Marte women so much. And I had so much writing that didn’t make the story and so many places I could see these characters going. That said, no. My rule for a book is like my rule for exes: I don’t double back once the story is done.
Author photo of Elizabeth Acevedo by Denzel Golatt.
With Family Lore, a magical saga centered on a family of Dominican American women, Elizabeth Acevedo takes greater narrative risks, reaches deeper into family dynamics and finds an expansive new register for her astonishing storytelling.
Emily Dickinson famously pronounced that “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers,” providing the enduring metaphor of a spritely little bird that dwells within each of our souls. With Swim Home to the Vanished, poet and first-time novelist Brendan Shay Basham suggests that, in contrast, grief is a thing that may be best embodied by fins and gills.
Basham’s peripatetic novel recounts the extraordinary odyssey of a Diné man named Damien after his younger brother drowns in the Pacific Northwest. Still reeling six months after Kai’s body washes ashore, Damien finds himself irresistibly called to the water, the source of his loss but also the source of all life. When gills begin to sprout behind his ears, he quits his job as a chef and makes his way south—first by truck, then by foot—to a small seaside fishing village. There he encounters village matriarch Ana Maria and her two daughters, Marta and Paola, with whom he shares a certain kinship, as they too have recently lost a family member. However, the early hospitality offered by these women may not be as it seems. Rumors of their supernatural origins swirl, and Damien soon finds himself caught up in poisonous family dynamics and power struggles that threaten to consume not only him but also the entire village.
Basham binds together myth and history in Swim Home to the Vanished, drawing inspiration from the Diné creation tale as well as what is known as the Long Walk—the U.S. government’s forced removal of the Navajo people from their ancestral lands. Basham’s own brother died in 2006, and while Damien’s grief causes him to lose the ability to speak, Basham’s words course across the page, sucking readers in with their vivid imagery and raw emotions.
Basham has a particular gift for transmuting inner intangible turmoils into corporeal form; the various characters’ physical transformations from human to creature are a creative epigenetic exploration of the ways in which trauma and grief shape who we are. For readers desiring straightforward writing and an unambiguous narrative, Swim Home to the Vanished may frustrate with its dreamlike nature, but for fans of poetic storytelling, Basham’s narrative will prove a challenging yet cathartic read.
Brendan Basham binds together myth and history in Swim Home to the Vanished, drawing inspiration from the Diné creation tale as well as what is known as the Long Walk—the U.S. government’s forced removal of the Navajo people from their ancestral lands.
A war bubbles at the core of The Fortunes of Jaded Women, but perhaps not the one you’d expect. Rather than retreading the conflict that has been the focus of most Vietnam-centric literature for the past 70 years, Vietnamese American author Carolyn Huynh offers up a refreshingly buoyant and irreverent debut novel about a fiery group of estranged mothers and daughters.
Ever since their ancestor Oanh left her husband for another man, the Duong women have been cursed to be unlucky in love and only give birth to daughters. Oanh’s current living relatives are therefore able to find professional success but never lasting love. Despite all living in Orange County, California, sisters Mai, Minh and Khuy n haven’t spoken to one another—or to their mother—for the last 10 years. The sisters’ relationships with their own daughters are hardly any better.
All this changes when Mai visits her trusted psychic adviser in Hawaii and is rocked by the revelation that this will be the year her family experiences a marriage, a funeral and the birth of a son. But Mai is warned that if she isn’t careful, it will also be the year she loses everything. The Fortunes of Jaded Women chronicles the riotous year that ensues as the fractious and feisty Duong women finally reconnect, heal their wounds and forge a new future as a family.
Celebrating Vietnamese culture and community, The Fortunes of Jaded Women is a delight that rises above mere frothy literary confection. The sprinkling of fantastical elements and abundance of sisterly squabbles and scandals keep things juicy and bring plenty of laughs, but the characters are the real stars of the show. Each woman is joyfully rendered and fully developed, offering a welcome contrast to cliched depictions of meek and docile Asian women, and a powerful subversion of monolithic depictions of a people who have for too long been solely defined by tragedy.
The Duong women have fire in their bellies, desire in their hearts and the grit needed to overcome any obstacle. The Fortunes of Jaded Women will certainly appeal to fans of over-the-top excess a la Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, but readers who love rich explorations of thorny mother-daughter relationships and the ways we weather trauma and grief will also find much to enjoy.
Celebrating Vietnamese culture and community, The Fortunes of Jaded Women is a delight that rises above mere frothy literary confection.
“Adulting” is hard, and no one knows this better than Angela Appiah, the feisty 20-something protagonist of Shirlene Obuobi’s bighearted debut novel, On Rotation. As the dutiful eldest daughter of Ghanaian immigrants, Angie has spent most of her life striving to meet her parents’ sky-high expectations that she become a well-paid, respected doctor and secure an acceptable husband (meaning: a lawyer, engineer or doctor, preferably of Ghanaian descent).
At the start of her third year of medical school, Angie thinks she’s finally got all her ducks lined up, only for everything to spectacularly fall apart. Her lawyer boyfriend dumps her hours before a family event, and rather than rocking the most important test of her med school career, she receives an embarrassingly low score. Now her entire future as a doctor hangs in the balance.
Right when she’s at her lowest, Angie meets Ricky, a smooth-talking, disconcertingly sincere artist who gives her atrial fibrillations in the best possible way. The chemistry between them is off the charts, but Ricky is off the market, so Angie decides to refocus on grinding her way to the top. But fate, it would seem, has other plans, and she and Ricky keep crossing paths. Angie soon discovers that in love—and in life—the best decisions come not from listening to your head but by letting your heart take the lead.
Like its multihyphenate creator (Obuobi is a Black physician and cartoonist who now adds author to her impressive list of accomplishments), On Rotation goes above and beyond, blending rom-com, medical drama, women’s fiction, coming-of-age tale and immigrant story. Even more incredibly, it balances all these elements well, tackling them in interesting and satisfying ways.
Obuobi’s choice to explore various types of love—platonic, familial and self—rather than focus exclusively on romantic love, is particularly gratifying and refreshing. It’s clear that Obuobi appreciates and respects her characters, all of whom are quirky and dynamic but—critically—never caricatures. Buoyed by Obuobi’s vibrant and strong authorial voice, Angie, Ricky and their friends leap off the page, their dreams and aspirations made palpable alongside their fears, flaws and hangups.
A genuine delight from start to finish, On Rotation will appeal to fans of Rainbow Rowell, Talia Hibbert and Ali Hazelwood, and resonate with any reader who enjoys multicultural, multifaceted, inclusive love stories starring unapologetically strong and complex women.
Shirlene Obuobi’s bighearted debut novel is a genuine delight from start to finish. Her exploration of various types of love—platonic, familial and self—is particularly gratifying.
Seven years after her mordant debut novel, Dietland, amassed critical acclaim and a cult following for its no-holds-barred skewering of the diet and beauty industries, Sarai Walker second novel is finally here. With The Cherry Robbers, Walker has concocted another slyly subversive feminist fable, this time in the form of a grief-laced gothic thriller that takes on weighty topics such as marriage, women’s health and generational trauma.
In 2017, Sylvia Wren is a world-renowned, notoriously private painter living in New Mexico. She’s rarely seen in public and turns down virtually all requests for interviews. However, in a moment of errant curiosity, Sylvia reads a letter from a journalist who plans to write an exposé detailing what she has uncovered: that Sylvia Wren is in fact Iris Chapel, the sole surviving heiress of the Chapel Firearms fortune, who disappeared 60 years ago.
Suddenly the secrets that Sylvia has spent decades running from catch up to her, and with nowhere left to hide, she attempts to exorcize the ghosts of her past by chronicling the family curse that claimed the lives of her five sisters, relegated her mother to an asylum and prompted Sylvia to abandon her life as Iris.
Exquisitely tense and satisfyingly spooky,The Cherry Robbers masterfully blends psychological and supernatural horror. In sensual yet spritely prose, Walker conducts a darkly erotic exploration of female desire, duty and destiny via an ensemble of nuanced female characters, each with distinct personalities and rich inner lives. Readers know the grisly fate that awaits the Chapel girls, but Walker still manages to maintain a high degree of suspense and intrigue that will keep readers frantically flipping pages.
For fans of Diane Setterfield and Shirley Jackson, as well as readers who relish multilayered, thought-provoking family sagas, The Cherry Robbers is not to be missed.
In The Cherry Robbers, Sarai Walker maintains a high degree of intrigue that will keep readers frantically flipping pages in this story of a reclusive painter whose grisly family history is suddenly exposed.
It can be hard to remember just how important paper maps used to be. More than just a way of assisting travel from point A to B, a map was meant to depict the world, revealing a location’s form and significance to anyone who gazed upon it. But what if, rather than being mere reflections of what already exists, maps had the power to shape the world they represented? This intriguing idea forms the foundation of Peng Shepherd’s ingenious and exhilarating second novel, The Cartographers.
Cartographer Nell Young is called in to the New York Public Library after her estranged father is found dead in his office in the map division. While looking through his desk, she finds a secret compartment containing a tatty dime-a-dozen gas station map—the same map that sparked a fiery argument between the two of them several years previously. He dismissed the map as worthless, and their disagreement ended with Nell being branded an outcast in the world of cartography.
Nell can’t begin to understand why her father would have held onto the map he sabotaged her career over, but it soon becomes frighteningly clear that things are not quite as they seem. Despite the map’s unremarkable provenance, it’s actually incredibly rare and highly coveted. In her attempt to understand why, Nell finds herself ensnared in a high-stakes cat-and-mouse game, one that could turn deadly if the other party hunting for the map finds Nell before she uncovers its secrets.
As fans of Shepherd’s 2018 debut novel, The Book of M, would expect, The Cartographers is wildly imaginative and totally mind-bending in the best possible way. Shepherd has crafted a juicy mystery masquerading as a grown-up scavenger hunt filled with astonishing twists and revelations. The result is a romp that’s pure pleasure to read and will keep readers guessing—and gasping—as the map’s true power and beguiling history are brought to light.
Fans of Peng Shepherd’s 2018 debut novel, The Book of M, will love The Cartographers, a juicy mystery masquerading as a grown-up scavenger hunt.
Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our newsletter to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres every Tuesday.