Books+: September 2021
The theme for this month is otherworldly. These stories--one true--are transportive, to dark and often magical places. I probably don't have to explain why this calls to me right now. If this is also you, I hope these books take you far. And near. When reality is blisteringly bleak, the only way out is through the deepest magic of our selves.
Gold Diggers by Sanjena Sathian
Sathian's story is about Neil, an Indian-American boy growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, who falls into a habit of extreme, magical intervention to deal with the ambitions of his immigrant family and community. Specifically, Neil resorts to stealing and drinking magically-imbued liquid gold in order to absorb the go get 'em energy of the original owners. Yes, complications ensue. The first half of the book, which is about Neil's early years, feels somewhat familiar, though deeply written and loved. For me, the story really comes alive in the second half of the book, which is about Neil struggling as an adult, now off the gold. Neil now lives in the Bay Area which, yes, suits the gold rush theme and always makes my heart go boom; you can tell me about your invented startups all day long, friend. And his story goes wonderfully, and darkly off the rails, bending history to time. This book screams movie in the making.
Know My Name: A Memoir by Chanel Miller
If you read Miller's book and don't get emotional, I'm honestly not sure if you're a human. Sorry, not sorry. Chanel Miller is the real name of Emily Doe, the woman who Brock Turner sexually assaulted on the Stanford campus back in 2015. Miller captured the world's attention a year or so later when her statement to the court about Turner's sentencing went viral, even landing in Hillary Clinton's election concession speech (words that brought tears to my eyes at the time). In this book, Miller builds on the power of that original statement with a vulnerable and honest look at the full implications of Turner forcing her permanently and violently into his world of rage and ugliness; the reverberations so far beyond the 20 minutes of his assault. Her story, while unfortunately as old as rape, is simultaneously far, far too modern. Though, it doesn't have to be, I promise. Gift this book to the young men in your lives. Know her name.
The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo
Vo's story is a demonic reimagining of The Great Gatsby, centered on the character Jordan Baker. And by demonic, I mean that this story is literally about demons, magic and all kinds of fantasy. It's been an age since I've read Gatsby, so some of that storyline escapes me. Don't read for that, though. Instead, let yourself get lost in Vo's labyrinthine tale and wickedly fun moments .... The characters begin drinking demon blood on about page eight.
The Family Plot: A Novel by Megan Collins
Speaking of death, The Family Plot is a love song to all the true crime podcast addicts out there, with your notebooks and your theories. Collins' story is about Dahlia, a young woman who grew up in a family obsessed with murder (check), on an island known for its serial killer (check). Dahlia's singular obsession is her missing twin brother (Check), and when she returns to her childhood home for her father's funeral (Check), she learns that he's dead, too (CHECK!). Mystery ensues. Honestly, this book is a little goofy and slightly light on Dahlia's character development. She's not especially plausible. That said, the concept and details woven into the story are [chef's kiss], and in the age of true crime podcast mania, this is spot on (i.e., her sister is famous for posting detailed murder scene art on Instagram). Live darkly--on your phone, friends.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
If Family Plot fits a specific milieu, Black's Coldtown is a whole age. This is a YA book, and is one of the more quietly devastating howls of the bleakness facing Gen Z. Black's story is about Tana, a teen girl who wakes up at a party to find everyone else killed by vampires. Mind you, not sexy, fun vampires. For various reasons that I won't spoil for you, Tana then makes her way to her local Coldtown, which is where vampires as well as humans either infected by a vampire bite or who want to live among vampires and be on live streamed parties with vampires (many!), are sequestered for all time. This is not a fun, road adventure book, though it's a great, piercingly modern read. Tana's outlook is fundamentally bleak, having been raised in an airless world compressed by the threat of imminent death. Her hope is an exertion of pure, dogged will, and love for the people in her life. Sound familiar? I know nothing about Holly Black, but I'll be damned if she hasn't perfectly captured the feeling of many youth in 2021.
Edward Cullen and his sparkle skin is 100% dead.