All Adults Here
When Astrid Strick witnesses an awful death in the middle of her cozy town, she decides it’s time to tell her three grown children about the newest happiness in her life: her relationship with Birdie Gonzalez. But Astrid isn’t the only one dealing with existential events. Her granddaughter, Cecilia, has been sent to live with her after her BFF was preyed on by an online creep; her daughter, Porter, has just gotten pregnant; and her two sons are having their own parental issues. Astrid’s kids may all be adults, but even grownups need Mom’s reassurance sometimes.
Fiction writers are, obviously, adept at utilizing their imagination, but there’s something uniquely delicious about Curtis Sittenfeld’s alternate history that is so deeply relevant to our present-day reality. In 1969, Hillary Rodham gave a graduation speech at Wellesley College as the first-ever student speaker. We all know where she is now. But what if she wasn’t? Sittenfeld’s novel follows Hillary to Yale, where she meets Bill Clinton, falls in love with him, but decides after harrowing deliberation not to marry him. In the years that follow, she forges her own path.
Razia Khan wasn’t always who she is now. Once, in what feels like another life entirely, she was the Crown Prince of Nizam—at least, that’s what her father, the king, was raising her to be. But Razia knew she was no prince and ran away to escape her father’s inability to understand and accept this. She’s made a name for herself as a dancer in Bikampur, where she’s also a successful thief. But just because the past is far away doesn’t mean it’s gone entirely, and when Razia comes across Bikampur’s own prince, she begins remembering something—someone—she left behind.
January Andrews is ready for a bleak summer cleaning out the beach house where her father—as January learned at his funeral—had been cheating on her mother for years. A romance novelist by trade, January hopes the change of scenery will also help unblock her so she can write a new book for her bank account’s sake, even if she doesn’t believe in happily ever afters anymore. To her surprise, Augustus Everett, her college crush, is living next door and struggling with his own writer’s block after making it big in the literary scene.
All My Mother's Lovers
“Maggie is in the midst of a second lazy orgasm when her brother, Ariel, calls to tell her their mother has died.” So begins the highly anticipated debut novel from Read it Forward contributor Ilana Masad. Bereft and compelled to better understand her mother, who never accepted her daughter’s sexuality, Maggie follows the siren call of five sealed envelopes included in her mother’s will, each addressed to a mysterious man. Discovering her mother’s second, secret life upends Maggie’s world, including her budding relationship with Lucia—the first person to whom Maggie’s ever felt truly committed.
Stephanie Danler’s debut novel, Sweetbitter, was a huge success. Even before it reached bestseller status, she knew she should be happy about just writing the book. Instead, she faced away from the future and toward the past. There lay a messy reality that, as the past tends to do, kept creeping into her life and behavior. Danler examines her parents’ substance-use disorders and the consequences on her own life, her trouble quitting painful relationships, and the ultimately frustrating fact that there isn’t one single, cathartic moment that takes away our trauma forever.
Latitudes of Longing
Recently married Girija Prasad and Chanda Devi, whose marriage was arranged, get to know one another over time and in a place new to both of them: the Andaman Islands. Years later, Mary, a onetime housekeeper of theirs, tries to free her son, whose friend Thapa, later still, leads us to Apo, an elderly leader in an isolated village. Human beings are a part of our landscapes, and in this novel’s four interconnected parts—Islands, Faultline, Valley, and Snow Desert—characters relate in physical, intellectual, and spiritual ways to the earth and to one another.
Happy and You Know It
You’d think that watching your band achieve sudden stardom after you’re no longer in it would be a total bummer, especially when your new job involves using your musical talents on a bunch of babies and their ritzy moms—and you’d be right. Claire was desperate when she accepted the gig. But she’s soon taken in by her employers’ charmed lives and even more charming personalities, from Instagram-mom Whitney to hilarious stay-at-home Amara to old-money Gwen. Beneath the charm, though, lies something more sinister. And why shouldn’t it? Mothering, even with money, isn’t easy.
Amy Jo Burns
Wren Bird is 15 when she witnesses a miracle that goes horribly wrong. But what is a miracle, really? Or what is it supposed to be? For the entirety of her short, cloistered life, Wren’s father, Briar, has taught her about miracles; he believes his snake-wielding powers to pray and preach are the result of a miraculous lightning strike that blinded him in one eye and later led him to her mother, Ruby. For Ruby, meanwhile, the miraculous lies in her friendship with Ivy. A summer of eye-opening discoveries leads Wren to her own understanding.
Samantha, Jonah, and Gavin haven’t been keeping in touch as well as siblings sometimes do. It’s no wonder that Samantha, a ballerina who’s been performing in Russia, has managed to keep her heroin habit under wraps, or that Jonah has succeeded in hiding his accidental involvement with elephant poachers in Gabon, or that Gavin hasn’t been sharing how close he was—and now is—to Hollywood failure. Gathered for Christmas in Chicago, the siblings begin to reconnect when Jonah, who’s smuggled ivory into the US, heads back to Gabon with Sam and Gavin in tow.
The Prisoner's Wife
In 1944, Czech Izabela met British soldier Bill when he was sent to work on her family farm as a prisoner of war. Neither of them expected to fall in love under such circumstances, in such dire times, but they do, and they decide to marry and run away together, with Izzy dressed as a man for her own safety. When they’re eventually captured by Nazis, both Izzy and Bill are believed to be British soldiers on the run, and they’re sent to a POW camp together. Their perilous, extraordinary journey is based on a true story.
Porochista Khakpour is widely known as a novelist and essayist who often writes about her positionality and identity as a Brown and sick woman in the US, an Iranian woman in the US, an American woman in the US. But Khakpour didn’t always want to write about these complex intersecting identities, and, in fact, once refused to focus on them. In this collection of essays, we witness that changing trajectory in both previously published and new pieces that ask difficult questions, poke fun at the ridiculous, and grapple with what it means to be an unwanted and reluctant spokesperson.
Something to Talk About
As a Hollywood child star who’s grown up to be a successful showrunner, Jo Jones is no stranger to fame. None of it has been particularly easy, though: she’s Chinese American and also a lesbian, and ever since she brought her assistant, Emma Kaplan, to a red-carpet event, the rumor mill has been going strong. Emma is much younger, a film-school dropout with aspirations of her own, and while she and Jo are emphatically not a couple, they’re spending a lot more time together since they need to work so hard on denying their relationship…
Meredith Talusan was assigned male at birth, and also diagnosed early with albinism. Raised in the Philippines, Talusan was a child star for a time before immigrating with her parents to California when she was 15. When she began attending Harvard, she learned that her grandmother, who’d always thought Talusan would be able to live as a white person in the US, was partially right—she could pass as a white gay man. But being a man wasn’t quite right, and her apparent whiteness wasn’t either. In this complex memoir of identity, fairness, love, and desire, Talusan examines their deepest nuances.
Well into the 21st century, the literary and artistic worlds are still trying to figure out how to correct the historic gender imbalance that has long favored men for prestigious prizes and fellowships. Back in 1960, when the president of Radcliffe College (sister school of the all-male Harvard) founded the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study, funding for women artists was nearly unheard of. Scholar and writer Maggie Doherty uses the notebooks, letters, recordings, journals, poetry, and prose of five of the first women to receive fellowships—Tillie Olsen, Anne Sexton, and Maxine Kumin among them—to explore this ultimately successful feminist experiment.
A writer living in New York City feels aimless at the start of this haunting novel about isolation that, in many ways, is eerily fitting for our moment. She hopes that the aimlessness she feels can feed the book she’s working on: she wants to write something without plot or character but that captures the mood of drifting. When she learns she’s pregnant, however, time and space—including the space of her own body—take on new dimensions, and winter finds the writer closing in on herself.
Giselle Burgess and her five children were only one family out of many thousands who were evicted from their homes in New York City in 2017. With the city’s overburdened shelter system, they ended up in a temporary shelter in Queens, sharing one room and two beds among the six of them. It was at the shelter, while making connections with other women and girls, that Burgess got the idea to form a Girl Scout troop as a way for the girls to find community, structure, and a shared sense of empowerment. Journalist Nikita Stewart chronicles their setbacks and successes.
Josie Bordelon isn’t walking the catwalk as she did during her youthful modeling years, but as the director of admissions for a prestigious private school, she’s always putting her game face on, especially as one of the only Black women in a field of mostly white men. Still, her job is the least of her worries. She’s determined not to let her daughter chase a foolhardy dream, she’s trying to get her best friend to stop urging her to date, and she’s pushing 40. When things begin to shake Josie up, you’ll want to witness the fun.
The Death of Jesus
J. M. Coetzee
In this final volume, following The Childhood of Jesus and The Schooldays of Jesus, Coetzee brings readers to the end. Foundling David—who has no memory of the life he had before meeting his parental surrogates, Simón and Inés—is now 10 years old. He plays soccer and loves being with his friends, he hates doing math, and he has a favorite book, which is also the only book he agrees to read. When the director of an orphanage suggests putting together a soccer team, David decides he should go live there because he is, technically, an orphan. Instead, he falls ill.
Ghosts of Harvard
Many parents would be thrilled to have both their children attend Harvard, but not Cady Archer’s. Cady’s older brother, Eric, died by suicide there after he decided to stop taking his meds, and Cady’s parents are understandably reluctant to see her start college at the same place that witnessed their son’s downward spiral. But that spiral is exactly why Cady has to go. She wants to understand what happened to Eric, and she uses his old notebooks to track down his acquaintances and friends. Voices begin haunting her—is she ill, too? Or is there something else going on?
As another difficult month unfolds before us, we turn to books to bring us solace, community, and joy. Our monthly favorites include family stories, like Tiny Imperfections by Alli Frank and Asha Youmans, and Emma Straub’s All Adults Here. We’ve highlighted love stories, such as Beach Read by Emily Henry and Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner. For memoir readers, check out Meredith Talusan’s Fairest or Porochista Khakpour’s Brown Album. Looking for the power of community? You’ll find it in Nikita Stewart’s Troop 6000. There’s something for everyone, so join us in reading together.
Featured image by Kevon Nicholas