SOS Book Log #6
February’s book round-up.
I read—a lot. Both for work and for pleasure. But because I cannot cover every single book within the outlets I write for, I am going to dedicate a post every so often to spotlight the books that I am otherwise unable to cover, books that flew under the radar, and books that aren’t new—because they deserve our love and attention, too. Now read on for some bomb-ass book recs.
If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery
When I tell you that I burst into this publicist’s inbox like the Kool-Aid Man breaking through a wall just to request a galley of this book, oh, girl, did I. And it did not disappoint, as I knew it wouldn’t.
Longlisted for the 2022 National Book Award for Fiction, Jonathan Escoffery’s collection of connected short stories centers around a Jamaican family in Miami, in pursuit of a better life after Topper and Sanya flee from political violence in their native Kingston in the 1970s—only to find that the only real thing the “promised land” promises is social, political, and economic disenfranchisement. Their sons, Trelawny and Delano, strive to forge their respective paths, but are constantly thwarted by financial (and natural) disaster, employment blunders, and racism. While Delano attempts to get his kids back by way of a backfiring cash grab, his younger brother, Trelawny, finds himself unhoused after a fight with his father and is forced to endure a series of odd, oftentimes hilariously absurd, jobs. In the end, we’re left with a glorious portrait of a family whose shared trait is a motivation to survive in spite of it all.
With a voice as sharp as it is funny, this gifted storyteller has crafted a collection destined to be read—and re-read—for years to come.
My Government Means to Kill Me by Rasheed Newson
It’s books like this that make living in these hellish times worth it. Truly. From writer and producer of The Chi, Narcos, and Bel-Air, comes this debut novel that is absorbing as it is vital, and is a testament to the power that can be wielded when blending queer history with fiction.
In My Government Means to Kill Me, Earl “Trey” Singleton III, a young, gay, Black man, arrives in 1980s New York City with only a few dollars to his name. After having grown up in a wealthy Black Indianapolis family, Trey seeks to leave behind his affluent past and his parents’ expectations of him, in search of personal and political awakening. Along the way, he meets a slew of characters that informs the purpose he wishes to reveal—from meeting prominent political figures in bathhouses, to volunteering at a home hospice for AIDS patients, and taking to the streets after becoming a member of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). With death everywhere he looks, Trey is determined to move through the world as vibrantly as possible, and to encourage those around him to do the same.
I missed this book and the characters in it the second I finished it. Do yourself a favor and introduce yourself to Rasheed Newson’s exquisitely penned coming-of-age story.
All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews
If you know me, you know that I don’t particularly dabble much in the woo-woo. I’ll buy a crystal here and there, listen to a friend explain the significance of my Venus placement, and also hold the firm belief that anything bad that happens in my life is the direct result of faulty witchcraft performed by some novice teen wiccans somewhere. Other than that, I’m not the most spiritually literate. I am, however, deeply convinced that a book will find its way into your life just when you need it.
This was very much the case with this one for me.
I fell in love with the protagonist, Sneha, right away. She came into my life at just the right time, and we held hands through our respective messes together. We meet her in Milwaukee, to which she’s moved for an entry-level corporate job that, as grueling as it is, allows her the financial security to send money back to her parents in India and pick up the tab at dinners with her new friend, Tig, and her college buddy, Thom, with whom she also works. She begins dating women, and before long falls for a charming dancer named Marina. But soon things begin to fall apart: secrets unravel, jobs go astray, and evictions threaten any sort of stability she’s made for herself. Despite struggling to get close to anyone, Sneha’s friendships and romance deepen, careening into a dazzling saga of friendship, queer love, and life in twenty-first century America.
To sum it up: inject this 2022 National Book Award finalist directly into my veins.
Hysterical by Elissa Bassist
First of all, that cover. You know—you just know—it called out to my unspooled ass like a moth to a flame. Furthermore, I’m quite familiar with the merry-go-round that is trying to get diagnosed for a mystery ailment that has taken over your life, yet assigning a name to is almost as frustrating as living with it.
Between 2016 and 2018, Elissa Bassist saw over twenty medical professionals, trying to find the answers that have constantly alluded her. Her pain, which millions of American women have, didn’t make sense to doctors. Women are significantly more likely to experience chronic illness and pain, and yet, as Bassist masterfully illustrates using her own personal experience combined with comprehensive research, getting treated for it is an uphill battle. It wasn’t until an acupuncturist suggested that some of her physical pain could be alleviated by expressing the fury which lay dormant in her that Bassist discovered the healing power of reclaiming her voice.
From growing up in a Colorado suburb to creating both a personal and professional place for herself in the world, Bassist examines the ways in which our culture listens to women, which is to say, barely, if at all. And if she/they should happen to speak up, it’s perceived as aggressive. Or called dramatic or insane. Or they’re met with judgement. Or, worst of all, violence. It’s a tale as old as time—literally.
Hysterical is a rallying cry. With unforgettable heart and humor, Bassist details how silence has hurt her more than anything else, and offers critical insight into how women throughout history and now have been conditioned to suppress their voices—and how that suppression suffocates. By breaking her own silence, Bassist is a shining beacon for others hoping to do the same. And, by doing so, piloting a movement with the remedy of conviction.
Really Good, Actually by Monica Heisey
I’ve been a fan of Monica Heisey’s ever since her first book, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better, came out in 2015. I remember spotting its pink spine in the humor section at Barnes & Noble while doing market research for Born to Be Public, my firstborn book baby, which was in utero at the time. I fell in love with her voice right then and there. I bought a copy to take home to my fairly empty first apartment in NYC, and it’s traveled with me from apartment to apartment ever since, its inspiration wafting from my bookshelves whenever I sit down to write my dumb jokes.
Imagine my excitement when I learned that Heisey, whom I’ve since been fortunate enough to befriend online, had a novel coming out! And, much like All This Could Be Different, it, too, arrived in my life at just the right time. Like the protagonist, Maggie, I, too, was going through a break-up.
A divorcée at the age of twenty-nine, Maggie is determined to embrace the singleton life. And everything is fine!!!!!!!!!! One might say, really good, actually. Yes, Maggie and I are fine as we eat burgers at four a.m. and become prone to cosmetic spontaneity—a result of being totally, completely fine. She endeavors to pick up no fewer than ten hobbies, dips her toes back into the dating game, and struggles with her finances, all while being kept afloat by her tough-loving academic advisor, Merris, and her tight-knit friend group. It’s a rollicking ride, heavily peppered with Heisey’s laugh-out-loud brand of humor and everything else you’d want in a novel that aims to tackle modern life’s many uncertainties.
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Art by: James Jeffers
Editorial assistant: Jesse Adele
You can follow my other unhinged missives by following me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. My debut memoir, Born to Be Public, is out now.