April's rainy days and not yet warm nights make it the perfect month to park yourself inside your home and devour book after book after book. Luckily for you, there are a wealth of great books coming out this April, from an essay collection which seems to be speaking directly to the innermost parts of your private self, to a graphic memoir that takes you on an incredible journey around the world and winds its way straight into your heart, to a debut novel about the intense, roller coaster love story that is the best friendship of high school girls. Check out our picks for the 10 must-read books this April, below.
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah (available April 4)
This story collection is home to one of the most haunting, unforgettable pieces of fiction we've ever read in The New Yorker, "Who Will Greet You at Home," which reveals the unsettling results of what happens when a woman who craves a child weaves one out of hair. Arimah's dazzling debut collection lives up to the promise offered by that tale, and delivers stunning stories revolving around family and romance, and love and war, all told with an incredibly perceptive point of view and lyrical prose that still maintains surgical precision in terms of getting to the heart of complicated matters.
Marlena by Julie Buntin (available April 4)
When I think back to the most meaningful relationships of my teenage years, the ones that stand out are those that were then described as friendships, those that have taken me years to realize were among the most romantic relationships I’d ever have. The connections I had with my best girl friends were of an intensity and power that went unmatched for many years; theirs were the hands I clutched tightly; theirs were the limbs with which mine were tangled in bed during our countless sleepovers; theirs were the hands that held back my hair when I’d had too much to drink and vomited, bent over the toilet, the dark ground, the filthy floor; theirs were the tears which wet the front of my shirt as I stroked their hair, comforting them over the loss of this boy’s interest or that boy’s attention. We shared everything: our secrets, our dreams, our fears, our drugs, our love, our anger. The stakes felt different than if we’d been more than just friends; we were allowed to be at once our most primal and most elevated selves, the best and worst versions of who we wanted to be. These attachments were fierce; they burned hot and then they burned out. We grew up; we moved away; some of us stayed in touch; almost all of us have replaced that type of friendship with adult romantic relationships.
Sometimes I’ll be reminded of those times, when everything seemed possible and consequences were something only adults experienced. These reminders are rare but stop me in my tracks, like when I recently read Julie Buntin’s brilliant Marlena, a novel about two girls, best friends growing up poor in northern Michigan, who find solace in each other—and in drugs and boys—when faced with the cruelties of their worlds. Though wholly different from my personal experience, Marlena so perfectly captures the bottomless need and desire of teenage girls and the reckless abandon with which they live their lives that I felt an urgent flash of recognition, as if I were reading about my own life, and simply discovering new memories. For anyone who has ever been a teenage girl and loved and lived a little too recklessly for their own good, Marlena will resonate on a cellular level, unlocking feelings you might have forgotten you’d ever had. —As reviewed by Kristin Iversen in the April 2017 issue of NYLON
No One Is Coming to Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts (available April 4)
This novel has been described as The Great Gatsby, but reimagined in the American South with African-American characters. And while it's certainly true that this expertly wrought book has echoes of Fitzgerald's classic—it centers around a fabulously wealthy man who comes to woo his former sweetheart, who's now unhappily married—Watts has created a narrative all her own, one which grapples with complicated topics like class, racism, love, and money with a sensitivity and intelligence that is breathtaking to behold. Ultimately, this incredible exposure of the grim reality behind the American Dream might be evocative of another great book, but it also possesses a greatness of its own.
Too Much and Not the Mood by Durga Chew-Bose (available April 11)
I devoured this gorgeous book over the course of two long-ish flights recently, and I was struck by how perfect it felt to read these intimate essays, written in such a way that their words wound through my head so resolutely that I now feel like they're permanently embedded in my mind, while sitting still, hurtling through space. It felt perfect because Chew-Bose has a unique ability to render and press pause upon those moments in which we retreat into ourselves, all the better to examine their weight from every angle. It's as if she stops all the madness going on in the world and picks up—and apart—the thoughts we have while standing in the eye of the hurricane. And what is the experience of flight if not one of suspended animation, up above the clouds, where something akin to self-hypnosis can feel like the only way to stay sane? Reading these lyrical essays felt like meditation to me; I turned phrases over and over in my head like mantras, marveling at Chew-Bose's talent, and composing a list of all the friends upon whom I would soon bestow this book. It's a long list.
Sunshine State by Sarah Gerard (available April 11)
Gerard's debut novel Binary Star was one of my favorite books of 2015, and her latest collection of essays is absolutely in the running for my favorites list of 2017. In it, Gerard writes beautifully about everything from an intensely close friendship (yes, it involved matching tattoos) that devolves with the same explosiveness with which it once thrived, to a fascinating look at the bizarre founder of the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, a Floridian bird sanctuary of international renown. Through it all, Gerard demonstrates how the insanities and inanities of Florida serve as a microcosm of America, in all its fractured, complicated beauty and darkness.
At the Lightning Field by Laura Raicovich (available April 11)
Read this beautiful essay-length book on Walter de Maria's outdoor art exhibition in one sitting—and then read it again. You'll want to, I think; I know I did. This is because, in the span of just under 100 pages, Raicovich takes readers on a journey into rural New Mexico, through storms and sunsets, and into a world of meteorology, art, solitude, and imposing metal poles. It's a provocative, intelligent literary journey, and I felt changed by going on it. I also immediately started to look into a trip of my own out to New Mexico.
Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro (available April 11)
I've described before how reading Shapiro's magical reflection on love and aging and family and self as akin to reading a diary instead of a memoir, so intimate are the thoughts and experiences that unfold within. It's a beautiful example of the searing power of honest writing, and an important reminder about the ever-evolving nature of our dreams, our loves, and our lives themselves.
Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke (available April 18)
In her exquisite, soul- and mind- and, yes, heart-shattering graphic novel, Radtke explores life’s big questions surrounding things like grief, mortality, and the impermanence of the things—the people—we love most. Centered around the untimely death of her beloved uncle, who falls prey to a strain of heart disease which runs in the family, Imagine Wanting Only This is Radtke’s delicately rendered journey across the world as she finds herself “consumed by the question of how something that is can become, very suddenly, something that isn’t.” Not content to internalize this question of what to do when we know destruction is imminent, Radtke explores far-flung places which have become ruined—devastated Midwestern towns, a town in Iceland covered in volcanic ash—all in an attempt to better understand the potential for her own heart to become a new and sudden site of disaster. That Radtke can deal with such timeless and oft-explored topics as death and loss without ever veering into cliche is impressive enough, but that she does it with an extraordinary sensitivity and intelligence uniquely her own, makes this debut a stunning reminder of the power of art to make us feel hopeful as we confront existential terror, to greet the abyss with eyes clear and open. —As reviewed by Kristin Iversen in the April 2017 issue of NYLON
Oola by Brittany Newell (available April 25)
While there is something stunning about the fact that this novel is the work of a writer who was just 21 at the time of its completion, this becomes an afterthought once you lose yourself within the compelling story of an errant young man, the narrator Leif, and the object of his affection (or should I say obsession), the titular Oola. The story traverses the globe, with Leif and Oola hopping across Europe and back to California, though the truest setting is nothing so simple as a geographical location, but rather the enigmatic Oola and the blurry boundaries that stand between reality and Leif's perception of it. Not since Lolita's Humbert Humbert has a narrator been as unreliable as Leif, and as with reading Nabokov's masterpiece, the experience of reading Oola is one which will leave the reader pondering questions about love, desire, and possession long after the last page has been turned.
Startup by Doree Shafrir (available April 25)
This razor sharp look at tech and media culture in New York City circa, like, now, could not have come at a better time. Doesn't it feel like just about every day brings news of some tech wunderkind or other being exposed as yet another emperor completely lacking in clothes? (As well as, you know, lacking an HR department to which employees could complain about said naked emperor.) Shafrir's compulsively readable debut novel is hilarious, smart, and timely; it feels like a necessary read right now, so perfectly does it deal with issues like the insatiable media, the weird place where wellness and technology meet, and why white men suck so badly—especially when they have just a little bit of power. Read this if you've ever hoped that technology could make your life better (and were then disappointed), or if you've ever had a shitty boss, or a shitty relationship, or been on the receiving end of an unwanted dick pic. Even if none of those things hold true for you, read Startup anyway, because it's just that good. And then also read it immediately so we can start talking about who we think should be cast in what I hope will be an HBO series adaptation of the novel: Would Zac Efron be a good Mack MacAllister? Rooney Mara the perfect Katya Pasternack? Constance Wu as Sabrina Blum?? Let's talk.