She Who Became the Sun is a captivating story of defying expectations and creating your own destiny - no matter the cost. Amid the ruthless backdrop of war during the fall of the Yuan Dynasty, there is a fascinating exploration of gender through characters whose experiences are never shoe-horned into 21st century understandings of queerness. It's dark, it's clever, it's sexy, and it's written so beautifully that you will almost get distracted from the moments of stomach-churning violence as these characters stop at nothing to claim their fate. If you love tragic period epics (The Song of Achilles) and morally dubious anti-hero/ines this one is for you.
Content Warnings: This brutal book has pretty much everything under the sun (no pun intended) but notably there is no sexual violence.
Helen Oyeyemi isn't for everyone, but if she is for you, congratulations because you are correct. Peaces follows an eccentric couple and their pet mongoose on a fever-dream of a train ride through the English countryside during which they encounter mysterious figures from their past. At times it has the feel of an old fashioned train mystery that has warped into a wacky romp of absurdity. At others it is an insightful meditation on relationships - the people who stay in our lives as well as those who cease to be real as they fade into the stories we tell ourselves about who we were when we knew them. The casual queerness and decentering of whiteness throughout are the cherry on top that will likely cement Peaces as my book of the year. Have you read it? If so let's talk!
Content Warnings: Some cartoonish violence, house fire
Based on a song by clipping that imagines an underwater people descended from the pregnant Africans who were forced overboard during the middle passage, this novella expands on the song with remarkable complexity and richness. The Deep is a stunning interpretation of collective memory and generational trauma, and it is a story that lingers like the sharp taste of sea water long after you have put it down.
Content Warnings: Violence against enslaved peoples, drowning, sharks, trauma
Mary Oliver's poetry always reminds me that this beautiful, tragic life is worth living. "Benjamin, Who Came From Who Knows Where" might be my all-time favorite poem and I quote it to my nervous rescue dog daily.
Content Warnings: Animal death, fishing, human death mentions
The woods conceal potent herbs, trickster foxes, and chilling secrets in this American Gothic portrayal of the role of folk medicine on American plantations in the antebellum period and immediately following the Civil War. The book follows a medicine woman born into slavery named Rue, whose inherited knowledge of hoodoo opens up opportunities to influence the complex power structure of the plantation, as well as accusations of consorting with the devil. Atakora's mastery of symbolism, complex characters, and a lusciously ominous ambiance make for an unsettling, compelling, and ultimately incredibly satisfying read.
Content Warnings: Physical and psychological violence against Black people, sexual violence, birth, miscarriage, abortion, and addiction.
Ugh, SO good. This snappy time-travel adventure is the perfect example of what an enemies to lovers story-line should be: a spirited rivalry that gives way to reluctant admiration, and finally melts into a passionate love of equals. From the very first teasing letter I was so invested in this forbidden love between the characters of Red and Blue, operatives from opposing sides of a war between the harsh mechanical and the lethal botanical.
I can honestly say this is the very first book that prompted me to look up (PG!) fan art of the characters because I just couldn't get enough! My heart!!
Content Warnings: Some blood and gore, poisoning, one scene of implied torture
Arundhati Roy has the rare talent of writing non-fiction essays that are just as engrossing as her fiction. She could write about watching paint dry in her signature wry style and it would keep me on the edge of my seat because she is that good. Thankfully, the subjects covered in Azadi are already fascinating: the movements for freedom under a fascist Indian state, and the role of the writer to document and uplift them. The star of this collection is definitely "The Pandemic is a Portal," in which Roy wonders what could be if we collectively decided to leave our pre-Covid baggage behind and imagine another world.
Content Warnings: the unspeakable violence that state governments enact on their people, Covid-19
This feminist ghost story collection delivers a very similar ~ darkly whimsical ~ tone to one of my favorite films, Spirited Away. Loosely based on Japanese folklore, these stories follow the otherworldly spirits who haunt temples, bathhouses, and unsuspecting men, living (or not) exactly as they please. An on-point concept with an execution to match, do yourself a favor and bring these ladies home!
Content Warning: Domestic violence
Whether our names are gifts we were given from family or gifts we gave ourselves, they are deeply significant to who we are. Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow's lyrical picture book shows young readers how to honor the pronunciations and meanings of each other's names, and gives us permission to proudly exclaim, this is how you say my name!
I read a lot of Agatha Christie when I was younger and became a huge fan of the 'underestimated elder entangled in a murder mystery' trope. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead takes this Miss Marple-esque character and twists her into someone more shrewd, strange, and clairvoyant than any of the other characters, or even the reader, anticipates. Set in a snowy Polish village, this Nobel Prize winning novel is the perfect winter read, grappling with predetermination, comeuppance, and our responsibility to the natural world.
Content Warnings: Somewhat gruesome deaths, animal abuse mentions, bugs
This graphic novel is breathtaking. The ragtag found family space crew, the star-crossed wlw romance, the stunning artwork using the palette of the lesbian pride flag *chef's kiss.* I adored everything about On a Sunbeam and only wish I were still reading it for the first time!
Content Warning: Blood
Shipwrecks, friends to lovers, and a Jacque Cousteau musical filled with ocean puns await you in this surprisingly emotional adventure. One of the most honest coming of age stories I've read, Drake pulled me back into the exhilaration of self-creation. The tender, sapphic romance between two fully realized, flawed, complimentary characters make this one of my all time favorite queer stories!
Content Warnings: death, drowning, unsuccessful suicide attempt, hypersexuality as a trauma response, substance use, coming out