I tried to think of an appealing common theme as an excuse to recommend all of these books but I failed. I just need you to read them because they’re good. I’m like Oprah, but not rich and also not popular or influential.
1. Zazen by Vanessa Veselka
I’m sure this isn’t the first time I’ve recommended this book here. I’m not gonna stop, ever. Zazen is a speculative fiction story about Della, who has something like post-traumatic stress disorder. She gets through her breakdown by becoming, in a bit of a dreamlike way, a guerrilla revolutionary. The dystopian near-future setting is so eerily true that my hair stands on end sometimes; the writing is so beautiful that it knocks the breath out of me.
2. Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
I am almost hyperventilating right now with how gorgeous this book is. Another near-future spec fic offering (I swear, that’s not the WHOLE list), this time focusing on a future projected from California’s water shortage issues. Luz and Ray have moved into an abandoned starlet’s home in Malibu; they’re renovating while living on ration cola and whatever wilting, rotting fruit her cash reserves can buy. They steal something important and it changes their entire lives. The language in this book rivals the language in Zazen. I don’t think I could pick a favorite between them.
3. 13 Ways Of Looking At A Fat Girl by Mona Awad
THIS BOOK. THIS. BOOK.
It’s not an easy book to read. If you have been a fat girl and have faced trauma from your fat, the recognition of yourself in this book will be acute. Every single goddamn thing in this book is so real. It doesn’t shy away from being a fat girl and your relationship to sex; it doesn’t shy away from being a fat girl and your relationship to family, or coworkers, or friends, or your own body. I wasn’t sure about it until the end of the second story, which made me want to cheer right the fuck out loud; after that, I was hooked. (I also didn’t figure out that the stories followed the same girl until way late, oops.) Read it.
4. How To Get Into the Twin Palms by Karolina Waclawiak
I read this book four years ago and it still lingers in my mind, curled up like a purring cat with claws. Set against a backdrop of Los Angeles on fire, Anya, a Polish-American girl who has lost her job, obsesses over the exclusive Russian club next door to her apartment. She seduces a man that she sees attending the club, Lev–a man that she sometimes can’t stand, a man whose smell in her mattress sometimes makes her ill–to try to gain entrance.
Anya’s restlessness and dissatisfaction are as potent and foreboding and dangerous as the smoke in the air. Waclawiak’s language is rich and descriptive; she captured the feeling of California afire and she captured the searching, self-destructive bent of being young and adrift.
5. The Polish Boxer by Eduardo Halfon (translated by Daniel Hahn, Ollie Brock, Lisa Dillman, Thomas Bunstead, and Anne McLean)
DON’T SKIP THIS ONE
IT IS NOT A BOXING NOVEL
I was 100% not excited to receive this book when I first got it. I admit, I judged it by the title. Polish boxer? Zzzzzzzz. Holy crap, I have never been happier to be wrong.
When I reviewed this book, I described it as Anthony Bourdain meets Jack Kerouac in Latin America. Halfon’s writing crawled right into my brain and my heart and even my loins at one point (I basically had hot flashes); when I finished, I was half in love with him. The book is a series of stories that Halfon himself is the narrator of, but how much is fiction and how much is real isn’t clear–and it doesn’t matter, at all.
6. The Earthquake Machine by Mary Pauline Lowry
It’s physically painful to me that you’re going to click through that link (you are, right?) and see the current cover design that the author is using. It doesn’t match the book at all. Don’t let it deter you, though; this book tells a story that needs badly to be read.
Rhonda is a badass teen protagonist who is tough as fucking nails and goes through some really real shit. (There is some pretty graphic sex and stuff in here so it may not be appropriate for all YA audiences, depending on your stance on what teens should be allowed to read.) The characters in this book are great. Rhonda’s story is great. It was another wonderful surprise of a novel.
7. The Last Warner Woman by Kei Miller
This novel is a duel of two unreliable narrators. “Mr. Writer Man” is telling a more straightforward narrative: the story of Adamine Bustamante, a “warner woman” from Jamaica. A “warner woman” is a woman with the gift of prophecy; Adamine finds that she is not universally respected for her gifts, and ends up locked in an asylum. His narrative is intertwined with Adamine’s attempt to correct what he gets wrong, what he doesn’t understand or dismisses as being untrue. The narrative struggle brings out many angles of this intriguing page-turner.
What books would you tell everyone to read because they’re just so freaking good?