Without a doubt, 2020 has been a testing time for all of us across the globe.
Fortunately for us book lovers, the new decade has been packed with compelling debuts and stunning new titles. From The Magical Language of Others: A Memoir by E. J. KOH to Sahar Mustafa’s The Beauty of Your Face, several exciting books were released in the first half of 2020.
With some fascinating debuts and brand new titles scheduled for release—alongside gradual steps taken globally towards normalization– we have so much to look forward to in the next few months!
With my newly-found excitement, I went on a pre-order spree last week. And I thought: Why not share my excitement with other wonderful readers?
So, I present to you some of the new releases I cannot wait to read in the coming months!
P.S.: As you may know, pre-ordering books can help writers immensely, since it clearly shows the publisher that the writer and their writing are in demand. If you can, pre-order books to support writers. More on why pre-orders matter.
1) All My Mother’s Lovers by Ilana Masad
In her debut novel, queer Israeli American writer Ilana Masad interrogates the complexity of grief, love, and identity through various perspectives: the sexual, the familial, the familiar, and the unknown.
The narrative follows its protagonist Maggie who returns home after her mother dies in a car accident. Her mother’s will and several envelopes addressed to a stranger instigate Maggie’s quest for self- realization.
The story unfolds over the course of a funeral and shiva, and I’m particularly excited about Masad’s witty language. I’ll quickly tell you why:
I’m sure I’m not the only one, but funerals make me uncomfortable and uneasy. You may think this sounds selfish, but it’s not. My avoidance of funerals (and books that center around such ceremonies) is a consequence of a “slightly” traumatic experience where I faced the tombstone of my grandmother who bore the same first and last name as me. Not a joke! Of course, there’s much to analyze here, and this topic is certainly on my long list of “things need to be addressed with the therapist.” But I digress. My point is that I am hopeful that Masad’s humor and wit will help me on my journey towards overcoming my fear of funerals. This sounds strange, I admit, but I’m not deleting it. #powerofbooks?
Intimacy has always eluded twenty-seven-year-old Maggie Krause—despite being brought up by married parents, models of domestic bliss—until, that is, Lucia came into her life. But when Maggie’s mom, Iris, dies in a car crash, Maggie returns home only to discover a withdrawn dad, an angry brother, and, along with Iris’s will, five sealed envelopes, each addressed to a mysterious man she’s never heard of.
In an effort to run from her own grief and discover the truth about Iris—who made no secret of her discomfort with her daughter’s sexuality—Maggie embarks on a road trip, determined to hand-deliver the letters and find out what these men meant to her mother. Maggie quickly discovers Iris’s second, hidden life, which shatters everything Maggie thought she knew about her parents’ perfect relationship. What is she supposed to tell her father and brother? And how can she deal with her own relationship when her whole world is in freefall?
Told over the course of a funeral and shiva, and written with enormous wit and warmth, All My Mother’s Lovers is a unique meditation on the universality and particularity of family ties and grief, and a tender and biting portrait of sex, gender, and identity, challenging us to question the nature of fulfilling relationships.
2) You Exist Too Much: A Novel by Zaina Araft
Palestinian American writer Zaina Arafat’s You Exist Too Much is another debut I’ve been looking forward to. The narrative follows the curious trajectory of an unnamed queer Palestinian American woman who crosses and straddles cultural, social, religious, and sexual boundaries.
What excites me about this novel– aside from the fact that it is a stunning contribution to queer Middle Eastern / American literature– is its focus on the idea of “existing too much.” The synopsis (which you can read below) points to the moment when the narrator comes out to her mother as queer. To which her mother responds: “You exist too much.” I will probably write more about the painful yet exhilarating notion of existing too much as a woman who straddles two cultures and two identities when I review the book, but suffice it to say for now that I’m familiar with the narrator’s struggles. We all come out in distinct ways, especially if we are compelled to navigate cultural, social, and religious norms.
June is my birthday month, and You Exist Too Much will be a birthday gift to myself–yes certainly a paradoxical one.
On a hot day in Bethlehem, a twelve-year-old Palestinian American girl is yelled at by a group of men outside the Church of the Nativity. She has exposed her legs in a biblical city, an act they deem forbidden, and their judgement will echo on through her adolescence. When our narrator finally admits to her mother that she is queer, her mother’s response only intensifies a sense of shame: “You exist too much,” she tells her daughter.
Told in vignettes that flash between the United States and the Middle East—from New York to Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine—Zaina Arafat’s debut novel traces her protagonist’s progress from blushing teen to sought-after DJ and aspiring writer. In Brooklyn, she moves into an apartment with her first serious girlfriend and tries to content herself with their comfortable relationship. But soon her longings, so closely hidden during her teenage years, explode out into reckless romantic encounters and obsessions with other people. Her desire to thwart her own destructive impulses will eventually lead her to The Ledge, an unconventional treatment center that identifies her affliction as “love addiction.” In this strange, enclosed society she will start to consider the unnerving similarities between her own internal traumas and divisions and those of the places that have formed her.
Opening up the fantasies and desires of one young woman caught between cultural, religious, and sexual identities, You Exist Too Much is a captivating story charting two of our most intense longings—for love and a place to call home.
3) Migrations: A Novel by Charlotte McConaghy
Australian writer Charlotte McConaghy‘s forthcoming novel Migrations tackles loss, love, and hope through an eco-focused lens. In her editorial review, Julia Fine, author of What Should Be Wild, (2018) emphasizes McConaghy’s “soulful prose and deep empathy,” as she “weaves parallel stories of a woman and a world on the brink of devastation, but never without hope. This is a true force of a book that I read holding my breath from its start to its symphonic finish.”
A Tale for the Time Being (2015) by Ruth Ozeki, which I read a few years ago, has ignited my interest in books on Climate Change. Ozeki successfully weaves environmental themes and ecological realities into her fiction without forsaking the story. This is the beauty of eco-fiction for me. There’s a plethora of nonfiction books about the environment, but eco-fiction books such as Migrations are not only environmentally informed, but they also explore the power of global human connection.
Franny Stone has always been a wanderer. By following the ocean’s tides and the birds that soar above, she can forget the losses that have haunted her life. But when the wild she loves begins to disappear, Franny can no longer wander without a destination. She arrives in remote Greenland with one purpose: to find the world’s last flock of Arctic terns and follow them on their final migration. She convinces Ennis Malone, captain of the Saghani, to take her onboard, winning over his eccentric crew with promises that the birds she is tracking will lead them to fish.
As the Saghani fights its way south, Franny’s new shipmates begin to realize that she is full of dark secrets: night terrors, an unsent pile of letters, and an obsession with pursuing the terns at any cost. When the story of her past begins to unspool, Ennis and his crew must ask themselves what Franny is really running toward—and running from.
Propelled by a narrator as fierce and fragile as the terns she is following, Migrations is both an ode to our threatened world and a breathtaking page-turner about the lengths we will go for the people we love.
4) Luster: A Novel by Raven Leilani
Set in NYC, Luster follows Edie, a young millennial woman who finds herself involved with a suburban couple in an open marriage. Kaitlyn Greenidge, author of We Love You, Charlie Freeman (2016) describes Edie as ” a character unlike any other in recent fiction”:
“A slacker black queen, a depressive painter, a damn funny woman. The narrator of this novel tells us of her history and her present life in hypnotic language that is a pleasure to read. Leilani is such a talented writer, I rushed to the end of every outrageous sentence to figure out how she would pull it off.”
As a life-long fan of powerful, eccentric women characters, I can’t wait to read Raven Leilani‘s debut novel, and of course, to meet Edie.
No one wants what no one wants.
And how do we even know what we want? How do we know we’re ready to take it?
Edie is stumbling her way through her twenties—sharing a subpar apartment in Bushwick, clocking in and out of her admin job, making a series of inappropriate sexual choices. She is also haltingly, fitfully giving heat and air to the art that simmers inside her. And then she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriage—with rules.
As if navigating the constantly shifting landscapes of contemporary sexual manners and racial politics weren’t hard enough, Edie finds herself unemployed and invited into Eric’s home—though not by Eric. She becomes a hesitant ally to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie may be the only black woman young Akila knows.
Irresistibly unruly and strikingly beautiful, razor-sharp and slyly comic, sexually charged and utterly absorbing, Raven Leilani’s Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make sense of her life—her hunger, her anger—in a tumultuous era. It is also a haunting, aching description of how hard it is to believe in your own talent, and the unexpected influences that bring us into ourselves along the way.
5) Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America by Laila Lalami
In Conditional Citizens, Moroccan American writer Laila Lalami reflects on what it means to be an immigrant Muslim woman and an American citizen within the current sociopolitical climate. She draws on her personal journey from Morocco to the U.S. as she interrogates the difficult concepts of identity, belonging, Americanness, and contemporary citizenship.
Considering my great respect for Lalami’s novels and authorship, it’s no surprise that Conditional Citizens is my most highly anticipated book of 2020. I’ve always admired Lalami’s position as a creative writer and a social commentator. Her essays on the shifting political and cultural landscape are insightful, incisive, and illuminating.
Her piece, “Bright Stars: The Unfulfilled Promise of American Citizenship,” from Conditional Citizens offers a preview of its brilliance. You can read the essay on Harper’s Magazine.
What does it mean to be American? In this starkly illuminating and impassioned book, Pulitzer Prize–finalist Laila Lalami recounts her unlikely journey from Moroccan immigrant to U.S. citizen, using it as a starting point for her exploration of the rights, liberties, and protections that are traditionally associated with American citizenship. Tapping into history, politics, and literature, she elucidates how accidents of birth—such as national origin, race, and gender—that once determined the boundaries of Americanness still their shadows today.
Lalami poignantly illustrates how white supremacy survives through adaptation and legislation, with the result that a caste system is maintained that keeps the modern equivalent of white make landowners at the top of the social hierarchy. Conditional citizens, she argues, are all the people with whom America embraces with one arm and pushes away with the other.
Brilliantly argued and deeply personal, Conditional Citizens weaves together Lalami’s own experiences with explorations of the place of nonwhites in the broader American culture.
And this brings me to the end of my list.
I’ll admit that writing this list has been fun yet more challenging than I thought it’d be. It has certainly helped me delve deeper into the question, why am I really so excited about these books?
I’ve also realized how difficult it can be to write about a book that you already like even though you haven’t read it yet.
Any debuts and/or new titles you’re anticipating in the summer and early fall? I’d love to hear about them!