Lazaretto by Diane McKinney-Whetstone
When it comes to creating living and breathing characters, no one can touch Diane McKinney-Whetstone. Her new novel Lazaretto is no exception. On the evening of President Lincoln's assassination, Meda, a young black housemaid, gives birth to a child fathered by the master of the house but is wrongly led to believe that the baby died, setting in motion a complex web of lies and longings. Heartbroken, Meda becomes a surrogate mother to two white boys from the nearby orphanage, whose disparate paths eventually bring both to the Lazaretto, a (real) Pennsylvania quarantine hospital. When the Lazaretto is put on lockdown, its trapped inhabitants are forced to untangle the fragile threads that have led them all there. I suggest reading Lazaretto at the dinner table, because it will leave you full as your favorite meal.
Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here by Anna Breslaw
Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here is absolutely delightful, the kind of book you'll be reading for an hour before you realize you've been grinning the whole time. Sarcastic, hilarious, and secretly sensitive Scarlett will be immediately recognizable to anyone who spent their teenage years unsure of what they were doing or where they fit in (i.e., anyone who was ever a teenager); it just so happens she sorts through all that confusion by writing about it on popular fan fiction forums online. Her navigation of the various relationships in her life (with her parents, her distancing best friend, her crush, her oddball next door neighbor, and all of the fictional characters she loves dearly) is honest in all of its joys and letdowns, and Anna Breslaw's exploration of the fanfic world is pitch perfect — explaining just what that community can offer to a person whose reality, annoyingly, refuses to be rewritten in the alternate universe of their choosing.
The Bed Moved: Stories by Rebecca Schiff
Rebecca Schiff kills it right out of the gate with her debut The Bed Moved, a collection of stories that are at once hilarious, harrowing, and incisive. True to its title, The Bed Moved explores sex in all its sometimes grand, often humiliating glory, following its young female protagonists on adventures to nude hot springs, a geology camp, cancer fundraisers, a parent's internet search history, and more. However, Schiff's stories also delve into sex's counterpart — death — detailing loss in ways that are as devastating as they are weirdly laugh-out-loud funny (and thus feel all the more true for it). The Bed Moved is a thrilling debut that will have you cry-laughing in public and leave you wanting more.
Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
Ocean Vuong's debut poetry collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds is the most human book I have read this year — at once beautiful in its power and powerful in its beauty. Each poem is brutally vulnerable, with Vuong pressing us to reckon with history, identity, war, family, and violence through a raw, intimate lens. Night Sky with Exit Wounds reads like a passionate confession, a map of the human body and soul: here is what it means to love, to lose, to grieve. This book is haunting. This book is urgent. This book made me fall in love with poetry all over again — and it will do the same for you.
It's Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too) by Nora McInerny Purmort
Heed the title of Nora McInerny Purmort’s memoir It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too) — because you’re in for an emotional rollercoaster of the highest order. In 2014, Purmort lost both her husband and father to cancer and miscarried her second child, all within a few weeks of each other. This book is her reckoning with those losses, cut through with abundant humor and heart. In the tradition of Bossypants and Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Purmort turns an unabashedly honest and self-deprecating eye to her family and herself, plumbing her childhood, motherhood, "hot young widow”-hood, and more for endless unexpected lessons and laughs. Nothing is off the table — first kisses and flat butts, cafeteria Catholicism, bad dad jokes, deadly brain tumors, and beyond. It’s Okay to Laugh is that rare gem of a read, equal parts heartwarming and hysterical, that'll make you laugh out loud — only to leave you tearing up a few pages later. I can’t recommend it highly enough.