Gold Fame Citrus
Alex: For Californians reflecting on one of the worst droughts on record, Claire Vaye Watkins’ reverse-Dust Bowl post-apocalyptic novel may hit a little close to home. When a combination of severe drought and heavy winds transforms most of the Southwest into a sea of sand, only the stubborn, criminal, and crazy refuse to evacuate California, subsisting on Red Cross rations and black market blueberries. Luz, the literal poster child of the conservation movement, and Ray, her army-vet boyfriend, are among them. They have no intention of leaving the arid—but darkly colorful—landscape of “laurelless canyon,” until a chance encounter with a poorly cared-for child called Ig leads them to a benevolent kidnapping. For strange, sweet Ig, they decide they have to get out. Their venture into the Amargosa Dune Sea, though, makes post-apocalyptic LA look like a civilization of the highest order.
For such a dark, unsettling tale, and a terrifying premise that’s all too plausible, Watkins’ novel is full of unexpected beauty and humor. The dune sea is largely devoid of life but hardly desolate; it’s described as magnetic, blindingly beautiful, its definition as a sea strangely apt for its constant gentle motion. The unexpected beauty of the landscape is mimicked in the beauty of the prose: Watkins writes with an uncanny, fevered lyricism and the comedian’s ear for the unexpected, throwing out words like “sandalanche” even as the reader fears for the protagonist’s life. Gold Fame Citrus may be an especially topical tale, but I’m willing to bet it’ll stand the test of time.
This One Summer
Ashley: This One Summer has an expansive, quiet depth, like the lake depicted on its cover. Summer is supposed to be familiar fun for Rose and her friend, Windy, when their families take vacations at lake houses in Awago Beach, but this time is different. Now Rose, over a year older than Windy and in that awkward tween state, notices how childish her friend behaves and how adults don’t have everything figured out. Most of Rose’s glimpses into adulthood come as she stumbles into or strolls by conversations happening around her, small moments linked into something larger than her daily routine of swims and stopping by the store for candy and DVDs. As an older reader, remembering the bliss of fun in the sun and the lessons specific to preteen girls—stuff about body image, sex, pregnancy, death, the difference between crushes and lasting love—is a delightful and devastating nostalgia trip.
But what makes This One Summer so memorable is the beautiful art. It conveys the subtlety of the story with lush details and a style that’s mostly Western yet obviously influenced by manga (Windy in particular makes Hayao Miyazaki-esque faces). Cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki prove to be a worthy award-winning team.
Letters to a Young Poet
Leigh: Letters to a Young Poet is one of my most treasured books. It makes me want to both light myself on fire to follow my purpose and have patience within my process if I reach a wall or encounter my own critical voice. Rainer Maria Rilke’s counsel offers a comfort for those quiet moments where you feel shaken for reasons too small or unknown to speak of. It’s rare to come across such sincere thoughts in answer to vulnerable questions; it’s a balm for the restless soul.
Mr. Kappus struggles with his insecurities as a young writer, which Rilke counters with such versatile wisdom that can apply to any practice within the arts. He reflects on life, love, beauty, and struggle, teaching one to look inward and draw out the strongest potential. Embrace the messy, gritty parts and become comfortable with your process of being. It may be tumultuous, but the journey itself is beautiful. These ten letters are a short read, but the material is dense in the richest of ways, meant to be digested over time. There are so many gems that lend for inspiration for anyone who’s questioning their direction or looking to do a some soul-searching.
Lara: There’s nothing wrong with a woman delving into her past and pulling dark memories up by their tails, illuminating secrets for all to see. In Saddled, Susan Richards does just that, shedding light on her history with alcoholism and abuse, and how she overcame both to emerge as a happy, healthy, and confident woman. Richards heals herself with the help of her animals, and in Saddled, it’s Georgia, Richards’ chestnut mare who does the trick. Georgia, as a pet and companion, gives Richards a reason to live, not to mention endless amusement and joy. Whether under saddle or on the ground, Georgia can’t take one step without a hefty dose of sass—which teaches Richards how to embody such strength within herself.
Saddled doesn’t contain the seamless miracle Richards shared with Lay Me Down, the rescue mare she memorialized in her debut, Chosen by a Horse. But if you like horses, you’ll enjoy Richards’ tales of farm life, made clear through her honest, open voice. As she puts it, “… to live with animals is to know the divine.”