There are some really wonderful books coming out this month, the kind that are so profoundly moving they change your perception of the world and what is possible in it, the kind that bury themselves inside your bones. Please read them. Get lost in their language. Give yourself that gift.
Census by Jesse Ball (available March 6)
There's nothing like a road trip novel which, admittedly, can go very badly in the wrong hands. But when done right, it serves as a profound evocation of the passage of our lives, of the way we move across once-unfathomable distances more easily than we'd thought possible, of the way in which the destination is never the goal, and sometimes isn't even a goal. Jesse Ball has written a beautiful road trip novel, yes, but it is also so much more. It is, as Ball explains in the introduction to this book, a tribute of sorts to his brother, Abram, who died many years ago and had Down Syndrome. Abram is not precisely present in this book, rather, as Ball explains, he lives in the book's blank spaces. But what is in the book is a love story between a dying father and the adult son for whom he cares, much as Ball once thought he would care for his brother one day. The novel's father and son have set off together on a strange road trip, in which they're visiting towns in ascending alphabetical order, working for an enigmatic government agency, taking a census. There's a rhyme to it all, but what is the reason? This is a question not only about the mission upon which the father and son find themselves but also about, well, everything. What there's no question about is Ball's alternately fierce and tender portrayal of parental love, of how we grieve for the things we haven't yet lost, and of how we are responsible for understanding our roles in perpetuating the destruction happening all around us. This is a book that will give you an expanded sense of what it means to have compassion, and what it means to love.
Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith (available March 6)
This is a stunning debut from Leesa Cross-Smith, centering around a young family's tragedy and told from three distinct perspectives: of Evangeline (Evi), Eamon, and Dalton. Evi is heavily pregnant with her first child when her husband, Eamon, is shot and killed while serving in the line of duty. Within the year, Eamon's brother, Dalton, has moved in with Evi to help raise her and Eamon's young son, Noah. The narrative shifts perspectives and jumps through time, offering a glimpse into Eamon's complicated feelings about his job and his anticipation of fatherhood. Then, too, Cross-Smith beautifully captures the complicated feelings Evi and Dalton are having as they grow closer, making sense of their new lives together. It's a meditation on loss, love, and rebuilding, and its power and grace portend great things to come in the future from Cross-Smith. But no need to wait for those, Whiskey & Ribbons is here for you to read right now.
Would You Rather? A Memoir of Growing Up and Coming Out by Katie Heaney (available March 6)
Katie Heaney's first memoir, Never Have I Ever (which, by the way, it's hard not to love books named after our favorite drinking games), chronicled her search for the perfect guy while she was in her early 20s. Her new book reveals that Heaney's search ended abruptly and happily—when she found the perfect woman. These funny, smart essays explore Heaney's realization at the age of 28 that there was no such thing as the right man for her because she was attracted to women. Heaney's not afraid to examine her past for "clues" to what she realizes is her truth in the present, and reflects on her changing identity with honesty and wit, and allows readers to see how the path to self-acceptance might be a winding one, but it's a journey well-worth having.
The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea (available March 6)
This brilliant (truly, like a multifaceted gem) novel is intimate in its revelations of one beautifully complicated family, but epic in the way in which it portrays a myriad of human experiences. It centers around the De La Cruz family as they mourn the loss of both their patriarch and matriarch, all in one blow. But their grief is also full of humor and wisdom, love and grace, making for a novel that is explosive and empathetic, and a much-needed depiction of what life is like for this very American family, as it straddles different worlds and ways of being.
Laura & Emma by Kate Greathead (available March 13)
Who wouldn't want to get an inside peek into the rarefied world of New York City's elite in the 1980s and '90s? That's exactly what this smart, witty novel offers, as it explores the strength of the bonds of family, class, wealth, and privilege, leading many of its characters (to say nothing of its readers) wondering just how strong their own constructed identities are, and what it might take to make everything come crashing down?
The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg (available March 13)
Ortberg's uniquely hilarious voice lends itself well to the dark and twisted milieu of fairy and folk tales, and this reimagining of the classics is predictably perverse, but also offers wonderful insight into the reasons why humans are so drawn to these stories of horror and loss. Ortberg is not merely updating fairy tales though, Ortberg also reimagines Biblical tales and other classic stories (be prepared for a truly goosebump-giving revamp of The Velveteen Rabbit), and, in doing so, switches around the genders of familiar characters, and demonstrates the ways in which this particular construct has long been used as a kind of emotional shorthand when telling stories. By removing gender as a distraction, Ortberg allows the reader to get deeper into the dark strangeness of these stories, a singularly provocative and fascinating place to be.
Stray City by Chelsey Johnson (available March 20)
Radically funny and truly insightful, Chelsey Johnson's debut novel, about a lesbian who finds herself pregnant after an ill-conceived one-night stand with a man, is a brilliant emotional roller coaster of a book, exploring what it means to create and sustain a family, and the difficulties of loving people—including yourself. Plus, it'll take you back in time to the late '90s, which was a truly special era of zines and answering machines.
The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman (available March 20)
Friendship novels are the greatest for a reason: their appeal lies not only in the way in which they're steeped in nostalgia but also in how they reveal the ways we are—and aren't—capable of growth. With The Gunners, Rebecca Kauffman enters the grand tradition of friendship novels by understanding that they are just another type of love story, full of as much pain and exhilaration as any classic romance.
Tangerine by Christine Mangan (available March 20)
If you liked The Talented Mr. Ripley, then you're going to go wild for this taut thriller, which takes place in the heat-filled streets of Tangier and centers around the oppressive, obsessive friendship between two young women, whose intense relationship devolves into a kind of insanity. Which, you know, sucks for them, but is absolutely delicious for the rest of us.
The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater: Essays on Crafting by Alanna Okun (available March 20)
In the last year, in an effort to quell my general anxiety and keep myself off my phone, I have started doing things like pottery and knitting and found that little was as effective as crafting for, if not always soothing, then at least distracting my Trump-addled mind. So it was with a lot of excitement that I greeted Alanna Okun's new book of essays on crafting, in which Okun relates how crafting, and the act of having control over the project in front of her, has helped her get through the craziness of modern life. There is a real warmth to Okun's writing, an appeal familiar to anyone who has been offered homemade cookies as a treat. And even if this book doesn't inspire you to put down your phone every once in a while and try and make something with your own two hands (though don't be surprised if it does just that), it will at least give you a new appreciation for all the people in your life who are makers of, if not things, at least joy.