May’s best new books

In Reading Lists - Best New Books by The Editors

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With summer on the horizon, more and more folks are vaccinated and getting ready for some fun in the sun. Whether you’re planning an epic trip or a relaxing staycation, no summer vacation is complete without a good book or two, and this month brings lots of exciting new titles to add to your TBR pile, including fantasy adventure, heartwarming YA, a twisty thriller, and more!

Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon

Rivers Solomon recently burst onto the fiction scene with The Deep and An Unkindness of Ghosts. Now the Lambda Award winner is back with this thrilling horror meets sci-fi fantasy. Fleeing from a fundamentalist cult and abusive husband, a pregnant Vern takes refuge in the temporary safety of the forest. But as she raises her twin boys in exile, a monster hunts her small family and Vern must fight back with escalating supernatural strength and violence against a past that won’t let her go. At once disturbing and hopeful.

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On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed

Annette Gordon-Reed is a genius at telling America’s story through the life of a family. She won a Pulitzer for her history of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson (The Hemingses of Monticello). Now she turns her attention to telling the history of how slavery ended through the lens of her own family in their beloved state of Texas, including her experience as the first Black student to integrate her local school. Eye-opening and engaging, this is an essential primer for all Americans on the importance of the Juneteenth holiday.

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Second Place by Rachel Cusk

A haunting, thought-provoking novel from Rachel Cusk (Outline trilogy). When a woman invites a famous male painter to stay in the artist’s retreat guesthouse she and her husband share on their secluded property, his presence (and that of the younger girlfriend he brings along) throws her stable family life into dangerous disarray. “The deeply gendered experience of freedom is cunningly exposed in a shocking interrogation of art, privilege and property,” writes The Guardian.

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Pop Song by Larissa Pham

In this vibrant, singularly unique memoir, Larissa Pham tells the story of her life, loves, and losses through the work of other artists — like Frank Ocean and Anne Carson — who have inspired her. Esmé Weijun Wang calls it “an endlessly inventive, intimate, and provocative memoir-in-essays that celebrates the strange and exquisite state of falling in love — whether with a painting or a person.”

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Summer on The Bluffs by Sunny Hostin

Are you ready to vacation like the Obamas and Megan Markle without ever leaving your couch? Dive into this sparkling novel from The View cohost Sunny Hostin, set in the very real Oak Bluffs, an exclusive Black beach community for the rich and famous. When the dazzlingly successful Ama Tanner invites her three goddaughters to spend one last summer together, she promises to give one of them her Oaks Bluff house at the end of the summer.

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The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel

Fitness fads have never been this fun. Alison Bechdel (Fun Home) has always been obsessed with exercise crazes, and her passion is infectious. Her new graphic memoir takes a look at past workout trends decade by decade, but in Bechdel’s capable hands, the journey is about so much more than getting in physical shape. A joyful look at all the wacky ways we try to work out the meaning of life and how we fit in it.

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Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard

Victoria Aveyard wowed the world with the Red Queen series, a dystopian fantasy, and now she’s back with a new high fantasy trilogy, this time taking tropes from the epics of yore. “I’m gonna write the fantasy adventure that I was always looking for when I was a teenager. I’m gonna write what happens when the heroes fail, and the people that are supposed to save the world can’t,” Aveyard told Publishers Weekly about coming up with the idea for Realm Breaker. There’s a wide cast of characters in this one, some human, some Elders, fighting over the fate of Allward and its connection to other worlds via Spindles.

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Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee

Noah Ramirez is a trans boy in love with love, and he wants to keep the dream of a happily ever after open for other trans teens like him. So he starts a blog about cute trans relationships. But a troll insists that all the stories are fake — which they are. In swoops Drew with a fake-dating proposal to save Noah’s blog — and steal his heart. This is a meet cute story for the ages that’s been blurbed by pretty much every notable YA author in the LGBTQIA+ space (Kacen Callender, Aiden Thomas, and Becky Albertalli, to name just a few).

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Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya Goffney

An #OwnVoices story about race and class and the courage to be authentic. The only thing keeping Quinn sane are her lists: Not of the endless things she needs to do to maintain her picture-perfect life, but of her deepest, darkest fears, the boys she likes, the times she ugly cried, and other various eclectic milestones. When the journal with all her lists goes missing, someone starts to blackmail her and threatens to post all her lists online if she doesn’t confront her seven biggest fears. Quinn’s quest to find the blackmailer makes her break out of the boxes she’s kept herself trapped in; cheering her on as she breaks through these constraints is freeing.

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Hurricane Summer by Asha Bromfield

Asha Bromfield is best known for her acting roles in Riverdale and Locke and Key (as Melody Valentine and Zaddie Wells), and now she’s breaking into the literary scene with this debut YA novel. A strained father-daughter relationship is given the chance to heal as Tilla spends the summer with her father in Jamaica, but treacherous storms are brewing. “I want young Black girls to take away that they have power over themselves, over their bodies, their perception, and who they are in the world and not to let anybody paint them with their own weird perceptions and insecurities,” Bromfield told Teen Vogue in an interview about Hurricane Summer.

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Counting Down with You by Tashie Bhuiyan

A cute romcom starring a Bangladeshi American girl who’s used to following all her parent’s strict rules. When her parents go off to Bangladesh for a month, Karina Ahmed finds out that she’s going to be tutoring the school’s bad boy — and fake dating him too. A kind grandmother, two conservative parents, one good girl and one bad boy is a simple recipe that will fill your heart with joy.

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A Master of Djinn by P. Djèlí Clark

Steampunk meets mystery and magic in this immersive alternative history of 1912 Cairo. In a world where djinn mingle with humans and Egyptian gods of old, the uneasy peace is shattered when a killer claims to be the man who brought magic back to the world. A delightful detective duo, the seasoned Fatma and her rookie partner Hadia, race to solve the supernatural case. An enchanting, richly imagined whodunnit fantasy from Nebula and Locus Award winner P. Djèlí Clark (Ring Shout).

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Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

The second we saw author Zen Cho describe her fantasy adventure as “A stressed zillennial lesbian fights gods, ghosts, gangsters & grandmas in 21st century Penang” on Twitter, we were in! Equal parts sass, suspense, family drama, and heart, you don’t want to miss this charmer set in modern Malaysia.

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The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Jake seemed destined to write the next great American novel, but never managed to. Now he’s a bitter nobody stuck teaching at a backwater MFA program. When one of his students suddenly drops dead, Jake steals the plot of the student’s book and publishes it as his own bestseller. Jake basks in fame and literary success until an anonymous email threatens to make his secret public. Buckle up for a wild, twisty ride with this fast-paced thriller fueled by dark secrets.

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Where the Rhythm Takes You by Sarah Dass

The rhythm will take you on a wonderful journey in this YA reimagining of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. But it will only be wonderful if you wholeheartedly embrace it, unlike Reyna, who’s stuck and afraid to dream while working at her family’s resort in Tobago. Then her best friend and former love returns to Tobago an international superstar DJ who’s staying at her resort, and all the hopes and desires for love and so much more come rushing back to Reyna. A beautiful will-they, won’t-they dance.

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Freedom by Sebastian Junger

Travel along with The Perfect Storm author Sebastian Junger and his three friends (two Afghan War vets and a conflict photographer) as they walk the railway lines and rivers of the East Coast, sleeping under the stars, for almost a year. A moving, thought-provoking mediation on the meaning of freedom and community that delves into how these two cherished human values both coexist and conflict. It’s a pleasure to wander with Junger, as he touches on boxing, resistance movements, the Apache, primatology, and more.

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Punch Me Up to the Gods by Brian Broome

A moving memoir about growing up Black and gay in rural Ohio. Framing his life story around the Gwendolyn Brooks poem “We Real Cool,” Brian Broome brilliantly calls out destructive stereotypes about masculinity. A heart wrenching, intimate look at an outsider's search for a space to be his authentic self.

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Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

Billed as The Princess Diaries meets Crazy Rich Asians, Tokyo Ever After follows plain old Japanese American teen Izumi Tanaka as she deals with the discovery that her father is the Crown Prince of Japan. Caught between so many identities proves difficult to navigate, even with the help of a hot bodyguard. A royally fun cross-cultural adventure.

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The Marvelous Mirza Girls by Sheba Karim

Take a trip to New Delhi with Noreen, who’s mourning the loss of her maternal aunt. She proves to be a great travel companion, keeping up a stream of witty banter with her mom (à la Rory and Lorelai in Gilmore Girls) and unafraid to see all that New Delhi has to offer with Kabir, her love interest. The Marvelous Mirza Girls is a playful and warm story of self-discovery and worldly exploration.

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Made in Korea by Sarah Suk

K-everything is in vogue right now (K-pop, K-drama), and Made in Korea is both capitalizing on the trend and expanding on it. It follows two entrepreneurial teens with competing K-beauty businesses who make a big wager: Whoever outsells the other for the school year gets both company’s profits. Hopes and dreams (and hearts) are on the line in this charming contemporary YA.

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Mister Impossible by Maggie Stiefvater

This sequel to Maggie Stiefvater’s Call Down the Hawk, about dreamers and the dreamed, may pull off a rare feat by being even better than the first entry in the trilogy. “The dreamed want to live free of their dreamers. Farooq-Lane wants to stop killing but still stop the dreamers. … Stiefvater’s pitch-perfect prose, detached and full of precise details, creates a tension that never lets up until the zinger of an ending that will leave fans gasping,” writes Kirkus Reviews.

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Pumpkin by Julie Murphy

Pumpkin is the final book in Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ universe following an all-new character, Waylon Russell Brewer. Almost every passage in this Pride-filled, fat-accepting book is highlight-worthy. Waylon is dipping his toes into the drag scene at the start of the book, and by the end, he's the ultimate queen.

 

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A Sitting in St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia

A Sitting in St. James by award-winning writer Rita Williams-Garcia (One Crazy Summer) has been receiving starred reviews left and right. Meticulously researched, the story is set on a plantation in 1860s Louisiana, and reveals the inner life of slaves that were meant to live in the shadows. Kirkus Reviews called it “a marathon masterpiece that shares a holistic portrait of U.S. history that must not be dismissed or forgotten.”

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