I'm Alej (they/them) and I enjoy, or prefer, to read books relating to the human experience. Non-fiction is great, so good, always eye-opening. Fiction follows second. I will read anything anyone I trust recommends, though.
My list is in order of what I've read most recently and what is most fresh in my mind, but each of these will stand out always. I am a firm believer that the books we read, while great when relatable, should take us through experiences and to worlds that we may not witness if not for the the writer–their voice and words our vehicle. I love to feel mirrored and validated by other humans, yes! BUT I also desire to peek into, if for a moment, the very different life of someone who is not like me, or is like me, but living in a whole different context than I am existing in. Or perhaps it's that our contexts are similar, but the bodies we've been given and the communities we've been placed in, OR displaced from, change that experience entirely. Perspective! That's all I mean to say. I hope to talk to you about one of these books in the future.
You might know Michelle Zauner from her band Japanese Breakfast. But truth be told, this book may be an even bigger accomplishment than taking an indie band to the big stage. Zauner recounts her relationship with her mother all the way through her mother's devastating passing to cancer. Gorgeous descriptions of food that make a hungry stomach growl written alongside gripping moments of grief. Zauner has written something for the bi-racial child of immigrants, for those who have lost their mother, for those who may never understand their living parent, for those who have spent countless hours in hospitals, and for those who feel as if they've lost their roots and culture when a parent passes. I felt personally connected to this, as I have one immigrant parent and one White-American parent. Zauner described many of the things I feel about losing my truth and balancing my identity before the world. An absolute read for all who grieve. Unfortunately, that is all of us.
Being a teenager is not a one-note experience. This YA novel by Sarah Moon captures it perfectly. Eli and Anna are both coping with an alcoholic parent. When their mother ends up in forced rehabilitation, the two are abruptly set in survival mode. The thing I like most about this novel is it doesn't just focus on one experience: Eli is coming to terms with gender and queerness. Anna is handling her own experience with sexual harassment and wondering who her real father is. Sarah Moon writes wonderfully of all of these complexities, giving real depth to both Eli and Anna. Something I don't often feel from YA novels. Teenagers are complicated, they are deep, they are curious, and they are worthy. Moon captures that. This book is great for anyone who has experience with an alcoholic parent, balancing their queer identities with their family life, and those who wonder who they are and where they're from.
One of the best memoirs of our time. Myriam Gurba is sharp, hilarious, deep-as-the-sea, and soft-at-the-core mean. Her ability to translate her experience and thoughts to the page is remarkable. Impressive. How can someone right this easily? This fluidly? You might find yourself surprised that some of the things Gurba thinks are things you've long thought, but never dared to say. Gurba is the kind of witty that makes you cringe and smile at the same time. As a Mexican-American I felt very seen by Myriam Gurba's memoir. I was grateful to witness her lived experience. Easily now my favorite book of all time. CW for descriptions of sexual violence and assault.
One of my top picks for 2021 new releases. Kazuo Ishiguro does wonders again--creating a world so like our own, but abstract in so many other facets that it's both recognizable and eerily new. Klara is an AF, a human-like artificial intelligence, and it's clear that she's sensitively aware to the world more so than her fellow AFs. The story tracks her placement in the human world alongside a young girl, opening Klara's mind to the compromises, contests, and challenges of the human experience. Klara's understanding of illness, love, negotiation, and the Sun are all on the table.
One of my top picks for early 2021 new releases. Two sets of sisters unexpectedly connected by two traumatic events. The writing is rich, honest, and insinuating. Each character's purpose clear, right down to the child in the coffee shop shyly playing on his sister's lap. I found myself surprised by the events, their unfolding, but also acknowledging how believable and true it all felt. A grim ode to sisterhood.
Megan Hunter writes of a place where the sun burns bright on Jake and Lucy's life, illuminating the most humiliating aspect of their years-long relationship. Lucy is a hurt woman who will hurt her husband three times, as agreed between them, to satisfy the pain she has felt from him. Hunter's writing feels like standing in a crowded room and feeling absolutely alone, no matter who you talk to. I also enjoy the idea that Lucy's home is a character that she interacts with, lives in and with. Reflections on marriage, autonomy, and anger.
Yes, this is technically a mystery. No, I don't usually read mysteries. But this one is really good! It reads smoothly and the ending comes with buyable twists that made me wish I could have a bit more time with Virgil Wounded Horse.
So many things at once meet here in the darkness of the pages, full yet stark: queerness, familial bonds, Nativeness, desire, loneliness, a reckoning with time. Devastating and beautiful all at once.
An LGBTQIA+ YA fiction for the young adult in your life. An impressive fantasy story of Xochitl and Emilia and how their differences blossomed into desire as they travel across a desert to resolve, or simply confront, a conflict affecting them both greatly. CW: Some depictions of graphic violence.
This collection of stories was a fast read - each of them digestible yet captivating. What happens after? I won't ever know, but the characters stuck with me after reading.
Erdrich has selected some incredible pieces from poets from Native Nations–from Alaska to Hawaii and all across the US. Tommy Pico, Natalie Diaz, and Craig Santos Perez are among my favorites in this collection.
Austin Channing Brown is a voice to follow. She welcomes the reader graciously into her reality and through her experiences as a Black woman navigating a White world. She checks reality and Whiteness in a necessary way. I could sing all day about how amazing Austin Channing Brown is and how grateful I am for her voice.
A reflection on seeing death, knowing death, and how the world moves forward as if nothing happened at all. Why do we keep their shoes if they're not coming back to use them? Didion reflects on the loss of her husband.
Lizzie Benson is some version of me in another place where I absolutely get that there's a shift in what makes life mundane and it's not necessarily a good thing, but she's trying to make the most of it. Perhaps flirtation with a man who is not her husband. Maybe coming to terms with her sibling's addiction. Lizzie may be all grown up, but there is still more growing to do, even in the confines of her already established life. A wonderful window into someone's life. Into the weather of it all.
Maggie Hoskie is a superhero. Or supervillain? A complicated woman with a realistic outlook on love and life. Almost too realistic. To the point where she's cynical. This book is 10/10 one of the best books my sibling has ever gotten me for the holidays (a tradition year after year). A YA fantasy filled with monsters, mystical powers, and even some love.
As the title suggests, even through grief, loss, pain, and suffering, we find joy and beauty. Even those hurtful experiences and relationships are gorgeous in their own unfolding. Vuong writes both delicately and veraciously of self discovery–as both an immigrant in America and as a gay youth exploring their sexuality.
I had the realization after finishing this book that Tommy Orange did something that took a moment to sink in: he put the brutalization of Native American people in the context of present day. Generational, inherited trauma seeping into each moment. Each character is carefully fitted into Orange's story, many of them connected without realizing it at all. It takes place in Oakland where Orange is from–something you can feel as a reader.
Lisa Taddeo writes elegantly of Sloan, Lina, and Maggie. Each of them completely different in age and location, but each of them connected by the thread of experience that is being a woman under the male gaze. I found this book to be really rewarding to read, but also emotionally challenging as each woman goes through challenges that are universal to many.
It's been a few year's since I've read this and I still think of Akin and Yejide often. Their love and life built behind a façade in order to uphold culture, but lasting in the end in a shape neither of them thought it would take. I believe I cried at the end of this.