As Jennifer Savran Kelly’s debut novel, Endpapers, opens, main character Dawn Levit has stalled. She’s in her mid-20s, dissatisfied with her art (she designs, prints and binds handmade books) and unable to make anything new. She’s also feeling stuck in her relationship with Lukas, whom Dawn is pretty sure would love her more if she were a man. Dawn has been exploring her own gender and sexual identities since high school, taking tentative steps to find her way, but she’s still doubting her instincts and herself. Lately, she and Lukas have found comfort in “slipping back into the closet,” where neither has to worry about feeling accepted. But neither of them is content, either.

While at work in the book conservation lab at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dawn finds a torn-off paperback cover bearing the title Turn Her About, which depicts a woman looking into a mirror and seeing a man’s face. On the back is a letter handwritten in German; the correspondents’ names (Gertrude and Marta) and Ich liebe dich (“I love you”) are the only words Dawn can understand. But this letter, apparently from the 1940s or ’50s, sends Dawn on a quest to learn more about the pulp novel, and about Gertrude and Marta. 

Following Dawn through the spring of 2003, Endpapers depicts a New York City still shrouded in post-9/11 gloom, evoking an uneasy mood and underlining Dawn’s sense that even in early 21st-century New York, being different isn’t safe. Out at a bar one night, Dawn, Lukas and their friend Jae are harassed by two men, which leads to a hate crime that Dawn feels she incited.

Dawn’s introspection is at times painful; she’s young, self-absorbed and prone to missteps with her friends and co-workers. But as the story progresses, the mystery of Gertrude and Marta converges beautifully with the artwork that Dawn begins to conceive. Kelly is a bookbinder and book production editor, and the novel’s details of book and print restoration ground and add depth to Dawn’s story. 

Endpapers is a coming-of-age story about growing as an artist and learning to trust and build relationships in a world that doesn’t want to make room for you. Despite its early 2000s setting, Endpapers still feels timely, leading us to reflect on how far we’ve come in accepting differences and how far we still have to go.

Though set in the early 2000s, Endpapers still feels timely, leading us to reflect on how far we’ve come in accepting differences and how far we still have to go.
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Occasionally, a book appears like a shimmering treasure stumbled upon during a forest walk. This is certainly the case with Iliana Regan’s memoir Fieldwork: A Forager’s Memoir. Her first book, Burn the Place, was a finalist for the National Book Award, chronicling growing up gay on an Indiana farm and creating her own Michelin-starred restaurant in Chicago. In both memoirs, Regan is a hypnotizing writer who speaks to readers in a deeply personal way, writing in a natural voice that artfully interweaves past and present.

Regan’s exquisite, carefully planned prose paradoxically feels like a casual chat, the sort that might unfold spontaneously during a long weekend visit. As it turns out, some very lucky people can experience exactly that, because in 2020, Regan turned over her restaurant, Elizabeth, to her employees, and now she and her wife run the Milkweed Inn bed and breakfast in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Deep in the Hiawatha National Forest, 10 guests are treated to Regan’s culinary magic each weekend. During that time, Regan hopes they will experience something similar to the “magic of the farmhouse I grew up in.”

Fieldwork invites readers into this world, as Regan explores and forages in the nearby forest and river for food to use in meals at the inn. She also forages in her own mind for childhood memories, including those of her beloved parents and her grandmother Busia, a gifted cook who emigrated from Poland. Busia’s duck blood soup, or czarnina, exists in the author’s memories as a sort of magical potion, something akin to Marcel Proust’s madeleines. Regan also shares her ongoing struggles with recovering from alcoholism, the difficulties of running an inn during the COVID-19 pandemic, her fears of losing her parents, her anxieties about the world and her desire and attempts to become a parent. Alongside these thoughts, she captures the great beauty and comfort of the outdoors with the voice of a naturalist.

Regan has led an intriguing, unusual life, which gives her memoir a unique and compelling perspective. She notes, for instance, “Sometimes I think I would still like to be a man because I don’t feel like a woman. But I don’t feel like a man either. I feel more akin to a mushroom.” With both Burn the Place and Fieldwork, Regan has earned her place as not only a world-class chef but also a gifted memoirist.

As Iliana Regan forages in the forest for food to use in the meals she serves at her inn, she also forages in her own mind for shimmering, moving childhood memories.
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As an immigrant from a “rich Arab country,” Lamya H was often asked by acquaintances in the American LGBTQ+ community how she could possibly remain a practicing Muslim, given Islam’s reputation for oppressing women and queer people. Hijab Butch Blues, Lamya’s memoir, is a generous, probing and candid response to that query.

Through its 10 chapters, the memoir generally follows the arc of Lamya’s life, beginning when she was a young girl in an international Islamic school, discovering her attraction to women and sometimes feeling suicidal. She moved to New York City at 17 to attend university, feeling unsure of her sexuality and of America’s gay culture. Now in her mid-30s, she has found love, her people and a life she could not have imagined as a teenager.

What is beautiful and brilliant about Hijab Butch Blues is that in each chapter, Lamya evokes a formative moment in her life through emotional and intellectual dialogue with a story from the Quran. The first chapter, “Maryam,” centers on a narrative that Christians will recognize as a version of the story of the Virgin Mary. As a young teenager, Lamya was transfixed by it because of how a despairing Maryam considers committing suicide, just as Lamya herself had. Thoughtful and questing, Lamya continued reading and found in Maryam’s story a way forward. The year she discovered this story, she writes, is “the year I choose not to die. The year I choose to live.”

Lamya H reflects on what was gained and what was lost by writing her debut memoir under a pseudonym.

In a chapter on Allah, Lamya recounts her questions about the nature of God, which she began asking as a 6-year-old. Is God a woman? A man? A pious religious teacher told her that Allah is not a man or a woman. This was a mystery and a revelation, and it helped her in later years as her family attempted to mold her in traditionally gendered ways. She learned how important it was “for me to use the pronoun they for God,” she writes, “my God, whom I refuse to define as a man or a woman, my God who transcends gender.”

Chapter by chapter, readers will feel a growing appreciation for Lamya’s intelligence, eloquence and courage. Along the way, we learn vivid details about her life and outlook—that, for example, she was a diligent, bright student with a disruptive sense of humor; that her parents immigrated to an Arab nation from a South Asian country for better opportunities and, as a result, that she and her brother experienced bias because of their brown skin; that she was immediately uncomfortable in New York’s gay bar scene and struggled to feel “authentically gay”; that she is ambivalent about America; that she loves her parents and feels OK not coming out to them.

Lamya H is a pseudonym, and her reasons for using one make sense. But even without using her real name, in Hijab Butch Blues she is observant, passionate and anything but voiceless.

Lamya H’s memoir is a generous, probing and brilliant response to the question of how she could be both a queer person and a practicing Muslim.
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Marisa Crane’s debut novel is a remarkable feat of speculative fiction, its premise so strangely familiar that to call it speculative feels like a misnomer. I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself is set in an off-kilter version of the United States, but the emotional truths it untangles are so sharp that its intricate world building feels less like fiction and more like an excavation of the country we already live in.

In a U.S. governed by the ominous Department of Balance, criminals are given an extra shadow instead of being incarcerated, which serves as a reminder to themselves and everyone they meet of what they’ve done. This system, enforced by state-run surveillance, creates a culture of pervasive public shame: Shadesters, as they’re called, are shunned wherever they go and have few civil rights.

Kris is a Shadester whose wife dies while giving birth to their daughter, who is immediately given a second shadow because of the death. Grieving and unprepared, Kris stumbles through motherhood in a daze. She worries and wonders and analyzes, observes her daughter, gets lost in her own brain. Her first-person narration is dreamy and frenetic, so intimate that it’s often difficult for the reader to bear, as well as nearly impossible to know how much time is passing. 

How does a person repent and forgive and reinvent? What kind of healing can only occur in community, and what kind of healing requires privacy? What happens when mistakes and misunderstandings are punished in the same way as abuse and deliberate violence? These are the turbulent, murky and unsolvable questions that roil inside of Kris, that define her life—but slowly, the kid grows up, and Kris is drawn back into the world. 

Ruptures and tension propel the plot forward, but there’s a deliberate, underlying slowness to the story, too. On the surface, it’s all explosive force; underneath, it’s introspective and intimate. And always, Crane’s prose is gorgeous. Short, searing sentences depict ordinary moments perfectly, while long, melancholy meanderings are broken up by bleak humor and inventive pop quizzes that speak to the impossibilities of living through grief.

I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself is an assured and surprising ode to queer family. It’s an untame story about motherhood and survival and the quiet, daily work of building a livable world. It’s about what humans can bear and what we can get used to, about the choices we make and that are made for us, about the worst things we do to each other and the most astonishing. Some books have the power to wake you up, shake you out of the old and push you toward something new and exciting and a little scary. This is one.

Some books have the power to wake you up, shake you out of the old and push you toward something new and exciting and a little scary. I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself is one of those books.
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Have you ever had an awful day that you’d love to forget? And then another, and another? Yet you don’t want to admit the pattern to yourself, let alone to anyone around you, so you keep pretending that everything is OK? We’ve all been there, and this empathy is at the heart of Monica Heisey’s debut novel, Really Good, Actually.

As she approaches 30, Maggie has been busy as a graduate student in Toronto, building a life with her new husband—until that disappears in a moment, with the shock of a breakup. She can’t figure out how to move forward, even as everyone around her, from her graduate school adviser to her friends, tries to help her see a way through. She can’t quite pick up the pieces, which readers witness in obsessive emails, Google searches, group chats and conversations. Instead, she tries to convince everyone (particularly herself) that actually, she really is good—even great. 

Maggie’s voice is engaging, allowing readers to feel her pain, cringe at her adventures and communication attempts, and root for her to find her footing. She’s a quintessential mess, making decisions that aren’t what anyone would advise, and yet she doesn’t wallow (at least not for too long). We cheer her on, hoping that she’ll figure it all out, or at least some of it. 

There’s humor and grace in Really Good, Actually—a lightness of touch, a wry wit. Maggie is a woman disembarking from traditional romance to find herself. And while her marriage might have been short, her voice is enduring, and her journey is engaging, surprising and fresh.

There’s humor and grace in Really Good, Actually—a lightness of touch, a wry wit. Maggie is a woman disembarking from traditional romance to find herself, and her journey is engaging, surprising and fresh.
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Nareh “Nar” Bedrossian, the fascinating and lovable protagonist of Taleen Voskuni’s tender sapphic rom-com, Sorry, Bro, is a walking, talking identity crisis. Nar’s never been comfortable in her own skin; she doesn’t fully embrace her career as a video journalist, her Armenian heritage or her bisexuality. There’s plenty of room for growth, and Voskuni deftly delivers it in a romance bursting with specificity and cultural depth, told through Nar’s distinctive voice.

Voskuni kicks things off with Nar’s boyfriend’s complete failure of a marriage proposal, and this cringey and brilliant opening scene exposes what Nar knows in her soul: She’ll never be happy if she surrenders part of herself for a man who is so dismissive of her culture. That’s why Nar agrees to attend “Explore Armenia,” a monthlong series of events that celebrate the Armenian American community in her home of San Francisco, California. Who knows? Maybe she’ll meet a man her mother deems appropriate (read: handsome, eligible and Armenian). Instead, Nar meets beautiful, chic and confident Erebuni Minassian, who rescues Nar from having to marshal the confidence to enter a mixer on her own.

Despite the value Nar places on community and family connection, she frequently recoils from what she perceives to be embarrassing aspects of Armenian identity, such as their penchant for gold, departures from Western beauty ideals and ubiquitous discussions of the 1915 Armenian genocide. This discomfort is a result of the clash of values that marked Nar’s childhood. Her late father strove to be a more stereotypically white American, while her mother takes pride in their culture.

A nuanced, complex battle between these two sets of priorities is constantly raging inside Nar’s head. Cool, levelheaded Erebuni is a totally swoonworthy love interest, and it’s impossible not to root for Nar. Voskuni gorgeously depicts their connection, but the narrative arc hinges on Nar’s journey from ambivalence to acceptance. Sorry, Bro is a beautifully crafted portrait of a woman and the Armenian American community, which has been historically underrepresented on the page.

Taleen Voskuni’s sapphic rom-com, Sorry, Bro, is a beautifully crafted portrait of a woman and her Armenian American community.
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No doubt you’ve read a good number of books in which you know the protagonist is in trouble, even though they sort of don’t. They may be with the wrong person, or in the wrong place, or working for the wrong people in the wrong business. Rafael Frumkin’s second novel, Confidence, is not only one of those books but also features all of the above.

When the novel opens, Ezra Green is in prison for being a flimflam man, but he’s still peddling the same snake oil as he was on the outside. The only difference is that now he’s doing it for cigarettes and ramen noodles as opposed to millions, nay, billions of dollars.

Ezra, the son of working-class parents, is larcenous from an early age. Small in stature, with terrible eyesight, teenage Ezra is sent (on scholarship) to a boot camp usually attended by rich bad boys. There he meets and falls in love with handsome, smooth-talking and completely amoral Orson Ortman. He is the train wreck you want to warn Ezra against, the miscreant who makes all the red flags start waving. It may be a bit on the nose, but Ezra’s blind spots aren’t limited to his vision.

Once out of the camp, the boys quickly learn how to separate rich and gullible people, especially women, from their money. They start small and end up concocting the mother of all scams: NuLife, a fake spiritual healing company that’s facilitated by the Bliss-Mini, a machine with bright lights that you clamp on your head. How it works is anyone’s guess, but it makes Ezra and Orson multimillionaires in their 20s and transforms Orson into a cult leader. All the while, Ezra pines for him with pitiable desperation.

Author of The Comedown, Frumkin is superb at dissecting all manner of malfeasance and corruption. Ezra doesn’t blink when he has his assistants cook the books, default on loans (Deutsche Bank, anyone?), defraud customers and shareholders and slime those who threaten to out the company as a boondoggle. In one hilariously ghastly scene, a man whose idea was stolen by Orson shows up in NuLife’s boardroom, threatening to sue like the Winklevoss twins but “dressed in the hoodie and jeans of the Zuckerbergian douchebag.” Even a military coup in South America doesn’t bother Ezra, as long as the bucks keep coming in and Orson is happy.

In a world where well-heeled heels are arrested for cryptocurrency scams, squillionaires gleefully trash their own vanity projects and masters of the universe disgrace themselves over and over, Confidence’s arrival is beyond timely.

In a world where well-heeled heels are arrested for cryptocurrency scams, squillionaires gleefully trash their own vanity projects and masters of the universe disgrace themselves over and over, Confidence's arrival is beyond timely.
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“Second hand books are wild books, homeless books,” wrote Virginia Woolf. “They have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.” Perhaps this is why Sotheran’s, one of the oldest rare and antique bookstores in the world (“One year away from closing since 1761,” as the store’s running joke goes), seems like a dark forest full of adventure.

In Once Upon a Tome: The Misadventures of a Rare Bookseller, satisfyingly named book dealer Oliver Darkshire extends an invitation into the shadowy and ever so slightly dangerous realm of this London bookshop. Health and safety hazards lurk around every turn. Towers of forgotten boxes rustle without prompting. Crumbling esoteric publications must be delivered to nameless agents on train platforms. As Darkshire portrays it in his humorous and hyperbolic memoir, bookselling is as far from a tame profession as you can get, more akin to joining MI6 or the CIA, or perhaps taking up professional snake handling.

Oliver Darkshire tells the surprisingly modern story of how his book about a 262-year-old bookstore came to be.

Darkshire insists he simply stumbled into a career at Sotheran’s by responding to an advertisement after a series of failed attempts to land or hold down other jobs. His quirkiness, his adoration of history and his wide-eyed sense of wonder at the magic of books marked him as uniquely suited to the position (which largely entailed sitting behind a postage stamp-size desk by the door, as a first line of defense against customers). As Darkshire leads readers through the stacks, opening and closing various mysterious cupboards, we experience the thrill of being invited into his secret world. Peopled with taxidermied birds, a resident ghost and a band of frazzled booksellers, Sotheran’s constitutes its own small, puckish kingdom. Darkshire’s prose is so confiding in tone that the reader feels firmly included in this insular, bookish underworld.

For the devoted book hoarder and hunter, reading Once Upon a Tome is similar to the deliciously bewildering experience of wandering through a rare bookstore, not knowing what treasure might be just around the corner. Darkshire’s chapters are helpfully labeled with headings such as “Natural History” and “Modern First Editions”—but upon closer scrutiny, they are stuffed with stories that sometimes connect to the subject they are filed under only by the thinnest thread. In some books this would tangle the narrative into a volume of pure chaos, but through some kind of cheerful alchemy, it only adds to the magic of our journey through Sotheran’s. One is never in control in a bookstore; this is an indisputable fact long known by all book lovers. The sooner you surrender to the curious internal logic of this world of books, the sooner the magic begins.

In his memoir, Oliver Darkshire invites readers into one of the oldest antique bookstores in the world and acts as their hilarious, bookish guide.

Flames flicker around the edges of Margot Douaihy’s Scorched Grace, casting light and revealing darkness, hinting at the sort of destruction that offers the possibility of a new beginning.

That’s what Sister Holiday Walsh was looking for a year ago when she joined the Sisters of the Sublime Blood after fleeing the wreckage of her life in Brooklyn, New York. Sister Holiday is not a typical nun: While she and her brother, Moose, were raised Catholic by her former-nun mom and police captain dad, being wholly reverent has never been her thing. Rather, she’s the self-described “first punk nun,” a heavily tattooed loner who hides her ink under scarf and gloves and conceals her trauma under a jauntily sarcastic demeanor.

Although she’s somewhat found her footing as a music teacher at Saint Sebastian’s, the New Orleans school the nuns oversee, Sister Holiday’s emotional armor cracks open when an arsonist strikes and Jack, a well-liked janitor and her confidante, is killed. Stunned at his loss and baffled as to why someone would commit such violent acts against the school, Sister Holiday turns to chain-smoking and recalling memories of her former lover Nina to soothe herself. 

How Margot Douaihy turned to noir’s hard-boiled past—and looked to its future—to create Sister Holiday.

But it’s not enough: She mistrusts the police, she doesn’t feel safe, and the Raymond Chandler novels she escaped into as a kid are looming large in her mind. “Sleuthing and stubbornness were my gifts from God,” she thinks, and she’s sure as hell going to use those gifts to solve the mystery on her own. 

Scorched Grace revels in its unreliable narrator and bounty of plausible suspects, from shifty authority figures to mercurial students to enigmatic women of God. Douaihy, a poet and professor who shares Sister Holiday’s punk sensibility, immerses the reader in her hyperlocal New Orleans setting and the murky depths of Sister Holiday’s tormented soul. Her prose is frequently lyrical and often lacerating, her characters layered and intriguing. 

It’s not surprising in the slightest that this series starter is the first book published by Gillian Flynn’s eponymous new imprint. Scorched Grace is both entertaining and devastating, dominated by a queer sleuth with a clever, curious mind and a fatalistic yet somehow still hopeful heart.

Scorched Grace is an entertaining and devastating mystery that introduces Sister Holiday, a queer nun with a clever, curious mind and a fatalistic yet somehow still hopeful heart.
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Anita Kelly’s Something Wild & Wonderful accomplishes an interesting feat: Its rich, lyrical writing manages to make hiking the 2,500-mile Pacific Crest Trail sound positively stunning but also like the last thing anyone but the most outdoorsy of us would want to do. But oh, these characters—I’d go on a journey with them anywhere.

Alexei Lebedev is hoping that hiking the trail will help him transition from Alexei 1.0 to Alexei 2.0: a version of himself who is more open, more adventurous, braver and happier. Someone who will be able to move past the emotional blow of his parents disowning him six months ago, after he came out as gay. Alexei 1.0’s life revolved around family and church, and now he has neither. He needs to figure out what comes next, but he never expected something as amazing as Ben Caravalho.

Where Alexei is a meticulous planner, Ben is spontaneous. Where Alexei is shy and socially awkward, Ben is outgoing, making friends around every corner. Alexei is dazzled by Ben right from the start, and some of the early speed bumps in their relationship come from the fact that Alexei struggles to believe that Ben could want not only him but also something long term with him. But that same openheartedness that so appeals to Alexei causes problems for Ben, who always falls too fast and gives too much of himself.

Something Wild & Wonderful is a journey of self-discovery, as Alexei comes to terms with who he is and learns to let go of who he was. It’s a journey of self-actualization, as Ben learns to stop blaming himself for past mistakes and accept a future built on the things that make him happy. It’s an actual, physical journey through a wide range of landscapes and climates, all of which Kelly depicts in gorgeous, moving prose. But most of all, it’s a journey to true love, made all the more believable thanks to the firm foundation Alexei and Ben start from. This isn’t a romance in which the main couple tease and taunt and drive each other up the wall before they finally hook up. This is a romance in which affection, desire, admiration, appreciation and respect radiate from every page. It’s crystal clear from the start that Alexei and Ben don’t just enjoy each other—they are actively good for each other. Something Wild & Wonderful is so sweet and satisfying that you’ll want to read it again and again, just to experience the various journeys within its pages.

Anita Kelly’s Something Wild & Wonderful follows two men who fall in love as they hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and it’s so sweet and satisfying that you’ll never want it to end.
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KJ Charles’ latest historical romance, The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen, is best described as a queer version of “Poldark.” It’s an adventurous cross-class love story set in the marshy hinterlands of England’s County Kent, as the Napoleonic Wars rage in the background. 

The action-packed and intrigue-filled plot begins with a union of virtual opposites. Gareth Inglis, a gently bred law clerk, and Joss Doomsday, a charismatic country smuggler, have little in common. But for one blissful week, they are just “Kent” and “London,” aliases signifying their respective home turfs.Their idyllic affair abruptly ends when Joss is called back home to attend to urgent family business and Gareth, who’s experienced more than his share of rejection, assumes this “family business” is just a polite brushoff. 

That would have been the end, if not for one inconvenient fact: London-raised Gareth actually hails from Romney Marsh, the same patch of Kentish land as his working-class ex-lover. And when his estranged father dies, Gareth inherits his title, country home and responsibilities. 

Just like that, Joss and Gareth’s no-strings tryst turns complicated as they find themselves not only in close proximity but also on opposite sides of the law. Joss is in charge of his family’s illegal but well-established and locally respected smuggling operation. And Gareth, now an influential local landowner by virtue of his inheritance, has a half-sister who is romantically attached to a zealous revenue officer, enemy number one in Romney Marsh, where even judges and gentry buy their goods from Joss’ family. 

The various financial and internecine quarrels are convincingly rendered and the supporting characters and setting finely textured, but it’s the tenderness and steam that emanate from Gareth and Joss that really give the story its spark. Their relationship is deeply passionate, and they have a lovely way of communicating even when they don’t have the language to articulate their feelings. Charles beautifully describes exactly what each man is going through emotionally, even when no words are exchanged: “They kissed their way past the hurt and the loneliness, kissed themselves back together . . .”

Fans of Charles’ Society of Gentlemen series and new readers alike will adore this complex and emotional historical romance.

Fans of author KJ Charles’ Society of Gentlemen series and new readers alike will adore The Secret Lives of Country Gentlemen, her complex and emotional historical romance.

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.
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In Will Schwalbe’s memoir We Should Not Be Friends: The Story of a Friendship, the wry writer of books-about-books (see The End of Your Life Book Club and Books for Living) turns his attention to an unexpected friendship that originated in a secret society at Yale. Unlike any secret society I’ve heard of, this one aimed at connecting very different folks in a purposeful community during their senior year of college. And members Schwalbe and Chris Maxey could hardly have been more different.

Early in the memoir, Schwalbe differentiates between nerds and jocks, positioning himself (theater kid, gay, literature major) in the former category and Maxey (wrestler, scuba diver, avid motorcyclist) in the latter. When the two met, they repelled each other like misaligned magnets; something about Maxey’s boisterous masculinity put Schwalbe on edge. But they began to listen to each other, due in part to the rituals of the society, and an unlikely trust began to form.

We Should Not Be Friends then veers from this nostalgic origin story into the rushing sweep of adulthood. Early dreams and uncertain beginnings gather momentum and fling the two friends through various adventures and, as time unfolds, into the stressful compression tunnel of middle age. Health concerns, financial concerns, marital concerns, dreams realized and abandoned, open communication and years of silence: All of it unfolds here, controlled through Schwalbe’s careful narration as he effectively shows how an fragile alliance in college yielded years of rewards.

As Schwalbe and Maxey share their lives, it’s obvious how much they support and even change each other, in part because of how different they are. “Had it not been for Maxey, the me that is here today wouldn’t be me,” Schwalbe writes, and he goes on to illustrate the peculiar familiarity that emerges between long-haul friends who have known each other across life stages, geographies and decades. If you are someone who appreciates the people in your life, especially those whose presence seems serendipitous, this book will feel at once fresh and familiar.

Will Schwalbe’s memoir captures the peculiar familiarity that emerges between long-haul friends who have known each other across life stages, geographies and decades.

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