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Climate change takes center stage in three-time Pushcart Prize-winning author Allegra Hyde’s debut novel. Set in a future world of toxic air, food shortages and deadly weather, Eleutheria is the story of 22-year-old Willa Marks, who refuses to give up hope for a sustainable planet and a better life for all.

Raised by survivalist parents on canned foods in the woods of New Hampshire, Willa has lived a lonely life—until a bad turn of events thrusts her into the arms of her cousins Victoria and Jeanette in the metropolis of Boston. The two sisters are the antithesis of everything Willa has known, their entire life revolving around posting fashionable pictures online.

Willa goes with the flow until a photoshoot gone wrong brings her to Sylvia Gill, a famous sociologist and professor at Harvard University. Sylvia and Willa fall in love despite their stark differences. It’s a comfort and love that Willa has never experienced before. But being with Sylvia also means living among the privileged and wealthy, who still hold onto their vanity amid a dying planet.

Willa doesn’t understand this obliviousness. She eventually stumbles upon a group of Freegans, dumpster divers who are committed to saving the planet, come hell or high water. They inspire Willa, who wants Sylvia to use her celebrity to tout Freeganism as the answer to the climate crisis. This eventually causes a rift between the two as Willa struggles to stay in a relationship with someone who doesn’t support her cause for a better tomorrow.

In this highly emotional state of mind, Willa comes across a book in Sylvia’s library titled Living the Solution by Roy Adams. It seems to provide the salvation Willa is looking for by way of a sustainable community run by the author: Camp Hope, located on the island of Eleutheria near the Bahamas. Willa gives up everything, including Sylvia, to be part of the community—until even this Utopia starts showing imperfections.

Fast-paced and dramatic, Eleutheria is a love story that plays out against the backdrop of a planet in trouble. Hyde, author of the award-winning story collection Of This New World, offers many twists and shocks throughout her first novel, delivering an eerie prophecy of a not-so-distant future if we continue our inaction toward climate change.

Fast-paced and dramatic, Eleutheria is a love story that plays out against the backdrop of a planet in trouble.

In the opening chapters of Dave Eggers’ latest chilling novel, we get a glimpse at a dystopian future in which privacy is a thing of the past and humankind is completely in the thrall of technology. True connection and meaningful communication are withering away. Even the secretary of state tweets dancing rainbow emoji from the official U.S. Department of State account.

At the center of this new world order is the Every, a megacorporation that has acquired Amazon, all the major search engines and social media platforms, and thousands of other companies. Enter Delaney Wells, a young idealist (is there any other kind?) whose parents lost their small-town Idaho store to the Every and now must work for the Every’s Whole Foods-esque grocery service. Delaney believes the Every is “not only a monopoly but also the most reckless and dangerous corporate entity ever conjured—and an existential threat to all that was untamed and interesting about the human species.”

Delaney’s goal is to tear down the Every from the inside. She gets a job at its headquarters and enters an otherworldly corporate culture where everyone dresses the same, steals each others’ ideas and pledges cultlike allegiance to the Every. Delaney begins proposing increasingly outlandish ideas: How about an app that listens to your conversations, tracks the participants’ vital signs and assesses the quality of the interaction? Or artificial intelligence that measures art so we no longer need to decide for ourselves whether “The Last Supper” is beautiful? Or an app called HappyNow? that tells you whether you’re happy with your recent purchases?

To Delaney’s horror, the more ridiculous her pitches, the more enthusiasm they generate, both within the Every and among consumers. She realizes her plan to turn public opinion against the monolithic company has just one flaw: Consumers no longer care about privacy or free will.

Eggers has long established his almost supernatural storytelling skills, and this new book is positively mesmerizing and wholly original. The Every, a companion book to The Circle, will likely scare the bejesus out of readers. The vivid future he depicts feels fantastical but just realistic enough to make you want to unplug your smart speaker and toss your fitness watch.

Unplug your Alexa and toss your Apple Watch. The Every, a companion book to The Circle, will likely scare the bejesus out of you.

Laura Hankin’s A Special Place for Women has a ripped-from-the-headlines hook: It’s heavily based on the controversial, real-life, women-only coworking space the Wing and related critiques of “girl boss” feminism, a phrase that diminishes women’s authority while masquerading as empowerment.

Narrator Jillian Beckley is an unemployed journalist from an unsexy part of Brooklyn who recently lost her mom. Jillian doesn’t have any female friends to speak of, but there are two men in her life: her childhood neighbor, who is New York’s hottest new chef, and a magazine editor on whom she has a crush. In a convoluted plan to impress the editor, Jillian pretends she is dating the chef in order to gain access to an elite club of powerful women called Nevertheless.  

This part of the story is similar to the movie Mean Girls, as Jillian initially mocks these out-of-touch women but quickly finds herself under their spell. Much of the novel alludes to possibly sinister goings-on at Nevertheless; Jillian worries that the organization is a shadowy cabal that ruins its enemies. At this, the reader may wonder if the novel is an overwrought sendup of the #girlboss culture that lauds female billionaires. After all, is there anything original left to say about wealthy, status-seeking women and the corrupting influence of power? 

But then, halfway through A Special Place for Women, a creative twist makes these events delightfully complex. This is where Hankin shows her range as a writer: The book you think you’re reading turns into something else entirely.

Admirably, the class analysis in A Special Place for Women is more finely tuned than most novels with an outsider-masquerading-as-an-insider storyline. That’s largely due to Jillian’s rock-solid millennial Everywoman voice, which allows her to stay relatable amid escalating bizarre circumstances. 

A Special Place for Women is a slow burn that’s ultimately fun, fresh and entirely worthwhile.

Halfway through A Special Place for Women, the book you think you’re reading turns into something else entirely.

Debut author Mateo Askaripour frames his novel, Black Buck (11 hours), as a “how-to” manual for fellow Black workers that reveals the secrets of the narrator's success. This framing device is particularly well suited to the audiobook format, as its similarity to motivational tapes subtly adds to the novel’s rich satirization of the bizarre and toxic realm of white startup culture. 

Narrator Zeno Robinson strikes just the right balance in his performance of protagonist Darren Vender’s first-person narrative, hitting both his swaggering cockiness and subsequent regret with equal sensitivity. Robinson also exhibits commanding range with other characters, including Darren’s mom and girlfriend and his white colleagues at the startup. Fast-paced, funny and dark, Askaripour’s stellar debut doesn’t let up in its takedown of corporate racism.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: How Mateo Askaripour climbed the corporate ladder, then spun what he learned into fiction gold.

Mateo Askaripour’s novel is well suited to the audiobook format, as its similarity to motivational tapes adds to the novel’s satirization.

In his debut novel, Mateo Askaripour offers a witty yet thrilling examination of the complexities of race in corporate America. The novel centers on Darren Vender, a 22-year-old Black man who shares a Brooklyn brownstone with his mother and works as a shift leader at Starbucks. Despite graduating at the top of his high school class, Darren did not go to college and seems to lack ambition. That changes after a chance encounter with Rhett, the CEO of a buzzy tech startup called Sumwun, who invites Darren into the ruthless world of corporate sales.

At Sumwun, Darren’s attempt to climb the corporate ladder is met with multidimensional racist resistance. Sumwun’s director of sales and Darren’s direct supervisor, Clyde, is a quintessential racist. He disproportionately criticizes Darren and employs incredibly demeaning language while doing so. However, Sumwun also features more subtle forms of racism. For example, white employees often remark that Darren resembles Black celebrities who look nothing like Darren—and who look wildly different from each other.

While fighting for his upward mobility at Sumwun, Darren risks alienating his family, friends and himself. Eventually, an unfortunate incident rattles the foundation of Sumwun and sends Darren on a life-changing and culture-shifting journey that is full of twists, turns and some truly profound messages.

Black Buck is an ambitious book. While being an intellectual and captivating work of satire, it also serves as an instruction manual for Black and brown people working in white-dominated spaces. Askaripour embeds tokens of wisdom in his well-crafted plot and delivers direct messages of advice and encouragement to readers. There is great risk in such ambition, but Askaripour is a fine writer and superbly executes his vision.

This is an entertaining, accessible and thorough look at America's race problem, a book both of the moment and one for all seasons. It’s a necessary read for those living under the weight of oppressive systems as well as for those looking to better understand their complicity within them.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: How Mateo Askaripour climbed the corporate ladder, then spun what he learned into fiction gold.

In his debut novel, Mateo Askaripour offers a witty yet thrilling examination of the complexities of race in corporate America.

After learning what it takes to make it in the corporate world, Mateo Askaripour spins that knowledge into gold in his riotous first novel.

“You’re likely in for a wild ride, and you will make mistakes,” says author Mateo Askaripour via Zoom from his home in Brooklyn, New York. “But as long as you learn from them and don’t judge yourself too harshly, you can retain a sense of self and still succeed.”

Askaripour’s comments reflect the central message of his debut novel, Black Buck, in which a young Black man named Darren attempts to navigate the punishingly racist corporate tech world without losing either himself or the love of his friends and family. With a complex yet accessible plot, rich characters and Askaripour’s sharp wit, Black Buck is a page-turning satirical examination of corporate racial struggle. And with its tips and tricks for achieving success in white-dominated spaces, the book also acts as an instruction manual for Black and brown corporate climbers.

“I wrote this book so that anyone who reads it, especially Black and brown people, would be able to take away a few gems on how to advance their own lives and the lives of those who they love.”

Askaripour’s professional life began in the same corporate tech world that he thoroughly deconstructs in his novel. The Long Island native was a prodigy of sorts, moving from intern to director of sales at a tech startup within a year. When he needed an outlet from the fast-paced and ruthless world of sales, he turned to the written word. His first two attempts at a novel fell short of the mark. Then in late 2017, he decided to write from experience.

“I realized that writing something that felt true to me meant that I couldn’t shy away from the things that were closest to me in my life,” he explains. Namely, sales, race and startups. In Black Buck, Darren’s quest to establish himself in sales causes internal and external turmoil. Forced assimilation, intrusive demands on his time and the stresses of racism create rifts in his relationships, self-identity and sense of control. There are moments when the reader struggles to determine whether Darren is a hero or a villain. That’s not a sign of any misstep on Askaripour’s part, though. Rather, it reflects the existential battle that Black and brown people face in these environments.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: The unique format of Black Buck makes for a great audiobook.


“There were times when I felt like I was mad powerful,” Askaripour says of his sales days. “I was 24 years old, managing 30 people and making over $100K. I had all these people looking up to me. In those moments, it’s so easy to forget that you’re Black. It was so easy to forget because you have some money and people are looking up to you. But then there were times when I’d hire a new person, a white man or woman, and I could tell that the first time I would ask them to do something or tell them to do something, they’d look at me strangely. Years later, I began to understand what those initial looks meant. They were saying, I gotta listen to a Black person? Especially this dude? Some of them never had to listen to a Black person in their life before, or even a person of color.”

Black Buck book coverAs Darren climbs the corporate ladder, some of the racism he encounters is overt, while other forms are stealthily inscribed into the culture of the company. Reflecting both his empirical understanding of the problem and his writing talent, Askaripour does an incredible job of showing how companies often use Black culture as a source of inspiration and mobilization while at the same time generating an internal culture of intolerance for Black people.

“They have this cognitive dissonance where they will take Black culture and use it to energize and further their interests, but how many Black people do they know?” he says. “And how willing are they to sit back and ask themselves whether they are helping or hurting these people that they never really think about?”


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of Black Buck.


Despite its grounding in racial strife, Black Buck is not a pessimistic novel at all. The African diasporic philosophy “each one, teach one” undergirds the book. Brought to America from West Africa, “each one, teach one” suggests that African Americans who have effectively navigated racial subjugation should guide and open doors for others in their community.

“I think we need to realize that until we’re in a position where Black and brown people are giving other Black and brown people those life-changing opportunities at such an exponential rate, there is going to be an obvious disparity, and there is going to be an imbalance. And that needs to change,” Askaripour says. “The ‘each one, teach one’ mentality is definitely a way to change that.”

For Askaripour, Black Buck is a form of service, an intentional attempt to positively affect the material circumstances of Black and brown people. “I wrote this book so that anyone who reads it, especially Black and brown people, would be able to take away a few gems on how to advance their own lives and the lives of those who they love,” he says. “It doubles as a sales manual for that very real reason. I feel hopeful that if someone reads this book and understands its journey, they would be able to better their lives and probably get an entry-level sales job. Yeah, man, ‘each one, teach one’ is not just essential to the book. It’s at the core of my life right now.”

 

Author photo by Andrew “FifthGod” Askaripour

After learning what it takes to make it in the corporate world, Mateo Askaripour spins that knowledge into gold in his riotous first novel, Black Buck.

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