Let Us Descend by Jesmyn Ward. From two-time National Book Award winner and MacArthur Fellow Jesmyn Ward comes a haunting masterpiece–a reimagining of American slavery that takes the reader on a journey from the rice fields of the Carolinas to the slave markets of New Orleans and into the fearsome heart of a Louisiana sugar plantation. Sold south by the white enslaver who fathered her, Annis struggles through the miles-long march and seeks comfort from memories of her mother and stories of her African warrior grandmother. Throughout, she opens herself to a world beyond this world, one teeming with spirits: of earth and water, of myth and history; spirits who nurture and give, and those who manipulate and take. Shortlisted for the 2024 Carnegie Medal for Excellence, Let Us Descend leads readers through Annis’s descent in a story of rebirth and reclamation. Don’t miss NPR‘s review and Barnes & Noble’s Poured Over Podcast interview with Jesmyn Ward.
The Frozen River by Ariel Lawhon. From the New York Times bestselling author of I Was Anastasia and Code Name Hélène comes a gripping historical mystery inspired by the life and diary of Martha Ballard, a renowned 18th-century midwife who defied the legal system and wrote herself into American history. Maine, 1789: When the Kennebec River freezes, entombing a man in the ice, Martha Ballard is summoned to examine the body and determine cause of death. As a midwife and healer, she is privy to much of what goes on behind closed doors in Hallowell. Her diary is a record of every birth and death, crime and debacle that unfolds in the close-knit community. Months earlier, Martha documented the details of an alleged rape committed by two of the town’s most respected gentlemen–one of whom has now been found dead in the ice. But when a local physician undermines her conclusion, declaring the death to be an accident, Martha is forced to investigate the shocking murder on her own. Clever, layered, and subversive, Ariel Lawhon’s newest offering introduces an unsung heroine who refused to accept anything less than justice at a time when women were considered best seen and not heard. The Frozen River is a thrilling, tense story about a remarkable woman who left an unparalleled legacy yet remains nearly forgotten to this day. “Fans of Outlander’s Claire Fraser will enjoy Lawhon’s Martha, who is brave and outspoken when it comes to protecting the innocent. . . impressive.” —The Washington Post. See what NPR had to say about this masterfully woven novel.
The Status Revolution: The Improbable Story of How the Lowbrow Became the Highbrow by Chuck Thompson. How did rescue dogs become status symbols? Why are luxury brands losing their cachet? What’s made F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous observations obsolete? The answers are part of a new revolution that’s radically reorganizing the way we view ourselves and others, that “will be hard for pop-culture readers to put down” (Booklist). Status was once easy to identify–fast cars, fancy shoes, sprawling estates, elite brands. But in place of Louboutins and Lamborghinis, the relevance of the rich, famous, and gauche is waning and a riveting revolution is underfoot. Chuck Thompson–dubbed “savagely funny” by The New York Times and “wickedly entertaining” by the San Francisco Chronicle–sets out to determine what “status” means today and learns that what was once considered the low life has become the high life. Thompson tours the new world of status from a small community in British Columbia where an indigenous artist uses wood carving to restore communal status; to a Washington, DC, meeting of the “Patriotic Millionaires,” a club of high-earners who are begging the government to tax them; to a luxury auto factory in the south of Italy where making beautiful cars is as much about bringing dignity to a low-earning region than it is about flash and indulgence; to a London lab where the neural secrets of status are being unlocked. With his signature wit and irreverence, Thompson explains why everything we know about status is changing, upends centuries of conventional wisdom, and shows how the new status revolution reflects our place in contemporary society. Check out what Kirkus Reviews has to say about this thought-provoking read.
Judas Goat: Poems by Gabrielle Bates. Gabrielle Bates’s riveting debut collection Judas Goat plumbs the depths of intimate relationships, and as the Chicago Review of Books hails, “Bates wields brevity so sharp it leaves one breathless, with layers of meaning appearing like invisible ink under a lightbulb with each re-reading.” The book’s eponymous animal is used to lead sheep to slaughter while its own life is spared, and its harrowing existence echoes through this spellbinding collection of forty poems, which wrestle with betrayal and forced obedience, violence and young womanhood, and the “forbidden felt language” of sexual and sacred love. These poems conjure encounters with figures from scriptures, domesticated animals eyeing the wild, and mothering as a shapeshifting, spectral force; they question what it means to love another person and how to exorcise childhood fears. All the while, the Deep South haunts, and no matter how far away the speaker moves, the South always draws her back home. With Judas Goat, Bates establishes herself as an unflinching witness to the risks that desire necessitates. Learn more about this electrifying debut collection in a discussion with the author on Keep the Channel Open podcast.
Tomb Sweeping: Stories by Alexandra Chang. From the award-winning writer of Days of Distraction comes this playful and deeply affective short story collection about the histories, technologies, and generational divides that shape our relationships. With her debut story collection, Chang further establishes herself as “a writer to watch” (New York Times Book Review). Set across the US and Asia, Alexandra Chang immerses us in the lives of immigrant families, grocery store employees, expecting parents, and guileless lab assistants. A woman known only to her neighbors as “the Asian recycling lady” collects bottles from the streets she calls home… a young college grad ponders the void left from a broken friendship…. an unfulfilled housewife in Shanghai finds a secret outlet for her ambitions in an undercover gambling den…. two strangers become something more through the bond of mistaken identity. Tomb Sweeping brims with remarkable skill and talent, keeping a definitive pulse on loss, community, and what it means to feel fully alive. Read the USA Today review.