My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
What if we considered our lives as marked not by romantic entanglements but by the big friendships that nourish and thwart us? The first in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, My Brilliant Friend depicts the early lives of narrator Lenù and her best friend Lila, who come of age, dramatically, by the book’s end. Their impoverished Naples neighborhood is rife with violence: Early in the novel, Lila’s father throws her out a window, breaking her arm, and the girls routinely witness neighbors being beaten in the street by the local mafia. Both girls show promise in elementary school; while Lenù must study hard, Lila seems to excel without trying. Idolatrous as much as they are envious of each other, Lila and Lenù are cutthroat competitive, but they find that their friendship creates space for imagination, creativity and envisioning a future outside of their neighborhood. Until that space abruptly closes, and Lila sees that her future will be one of mere survival. Few narratives capture the euphoric, gutting fluctuations of friendship so specifically. Translated from Italian by Ann Goldstein, Lenù’s singular voice is propulsive and urgent. You will see yourself in both characters, and you will be drawn to the darkness.
—Erica, Associate Editor
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
Growing up, I was utterly obsessed with the ocean, and I wanted to be a marine biologist. Unfortunately, I eventually learned that marine biology was more science and less dolphin whispering, but I still get excited when I come across a story that recognizes the magic of the marine world. The premise of Remarkably Bright Creatures immediately caught my eye: a giant Pacific octopus befriends an elderly woman and helps her solve the mystery of her son’s death. Tova, our protagonist, is gentle yet resilient, earning the adoration of Marcellus (the octopus) as she works the night shift cleaning his aquarium. Marcellus has an agenda of his own—yes, we get to hear the octopus’s thoughts—but he balances it with compassion for Tova and for the human race that humans, honestly, could learn from. The characters in this story are kind to each other, yet the goodness doesn’t feel contrived. Rather, Shelby Van Pelt has achieved a tale where there are no villains but the stakes are still high. Tova and Marcellus each have a heart as big as the deep blue sea, and their unique bond reminds us what we stand to gain from offering love, empathy and generosity to the remarkably bright creatures around us.
—Jessica, Editorial Intern
First Test by Tamora Pierce
In First Test, Tamora Pierce takes readers back to the enchanting and beloved realm of Tortall, which was first introduced in her acclaimed young adult fantasy series, the Song of the Lioness. Although it has been 10 years since it was decreed legal for women to become knights, Keladry of Mindelan (Kel) is the first girl brave enough to openly train for knighthood. Facing extreme scrutiny, an unfair probationary year and a training master hellbent on her failure, it seems like Kel might never achieve her dream. Enter Nealean of Queenscove (Neal), who is also considered an oddity as the oldest of the first-year pages. Neal takes Kel under his wing and becomes one of her biggest champions in her uphill battle to prove that she’s just as good as the male pages. As they bond over being set apart due to their unusual circumstances, their friendship allows them to overcome every obstacle thrown their way, from hazing taken way too far to being thrown into the middle of a very real battle. Together, best friends Kel and Neal prove that they are exactly where they are meant to be.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is an unusual love letter—written by a son to his mother, even though she cannot read. As a child in Vietnam, her school was destroyed by American napalm. Her son, called Little Dog, grew up in Hartford, Connecticut, after she immigrated there with him, and became a writer. With this letter, he is putting into words the physical language of harm and care that forms their intricate bond. He describes the impact of her PTSD from living through the Vietnam War, combined with the isolation and vulnerability of being unable to speak English in Hartford: When he tells his mother he was attacked by bullies at school, her response is to hit him, then admonish him to use his English to protect himself, because she cannot. In a way, his journey into writing is an act of love towards her, the fulfillment of her wish, even as it takes him further and further from her. Vuong tells this story with arresting beauty and intensity, following Little Dog through world-shifting experiences with love, sex and loss into his adulthood as a published writer.
—Phoebe, Associate Editor