Jacqueline Woodson deftly touches on race, class, religion, and sexuality in a spare but poignant multigenerational portrait of a Brooklyn family; Brian Allen Carr tells a timely tale that is drawing comparisons to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye; Benjamin Moser mines the life of one of the 20th century's most formidable intellectuals, and more.
Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.
Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
Like many others, I am always in awe when I read Jacqueline Woodson. She’s the author of more than two dozen award-winning and bestselling books, and every time I open to the first page I fall into a trance. All the noise rushes away and what’s left is her melodic prose that waxes in and out of generations so seamlessly that, in the case of Red at the Bone, you’ve just been told the life story of a daughter, her parents, her grandparents, a teenage pregnancy, and a white dress that belonged to each of them. Her writing is tender, but strong, eloquently guiding the reader through the lineage of how hopes are born and sometimes dashed, how neighborhoods gentrify, how mistakes are made and lives are created. Red at the Bone is life-affirming and another incredible novel by Jacqueline Woodson. —Al Woodworth
Opioid, Indiana by Brian Allen Carr
Recently transplanted from Texas to Indiana, where he has moved in with his drug-addled uncle and his uncle’s girlfriend, seventeen-year-old Riggle lives in what is commonly referred to as “flyover country.” The picture of the teenager’s life that author Brian Allen Carr paints is not pretty, but there is something really attractive about this novel. Riggle is a character you want read about and root for, and the characters around him are all memorable in their various dysfunctions. When Riggle is suspended from school for a week, we get to spend the days with him as he navigates the poor hand he’s been dealt. Each day begins with memories of his deceased mother. He goes to the movies with his best friend Bennet. He goes looking for a job (and his uncle, who is off doing drugs), and we gradually learn more about where he came from, even as he has no idea where he’s going. This isn’t everyone’s story, and it is not a story for every reader. But it is a genuine one, and Riggle's thoughts and musings about his messed-up world kept me turning the pages. He will stick with me for a long time. --Chris Schluep
Sontag: Her Life and Work by Benjamin Moser
Mythologized and misunderstood, lauded and loathed, a girl from the suburbs who became a proud symbol of cosmopolitanism, Sontag left a legacy of writing on art and politics, feminism and homosexuality, celebrity and style, medicine and drugs, radicalism and Fascism and Freudianism and Communism and Americanism, that forms an indispensable key to modern culture. She was there when the Cuban Revolution began, and when the Berlin Wall came down; in Vietnam under American bombardment, in wartime Israel, in besieged Sarajevo. She was in New York when artists tried to resist the tug of money—and when many gave in. No writer negotiated as many worlds; no serious writer had as many glamorous lovers. Sontag tells these stories and examines the work upon which her reputation was based.
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