The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Cecily Wong, Ashley Hutson, and Fariha Róisín.


Cecily Wong. Dutton, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-593-18445-5

Wong (Diamond Head) captures the fierce bond and stark differences between two mixed-race Chinese American sisters, one of whom dies in a freak accident, in her penetrating latest. After a family vacation in India, Hank and Karen Liu Brighton open an import and textiles boutique called Kaleidoscope in Eugene, Ore., to cash in on Americans’ interest in Eastern aesthetics. Soon, they move to New York City to open a new Kaleidoscope branch, just as their older daughter, Morgan, begins studying at the Parsons School of Design in the city. Morgan becomes the company’s main designer, shaping vibrant Indian-inspired textiles into a panoply of culturally appropriated styles such as kimonos and Mexican embroidery, while her sister Riley, ever the observer, studies anthropology at Barnard. Then, Morgan is killed by a collapsed construction crane. Hank and Karen find refuge in sleeping pills and alcohol while Kaleidoscope wanes; Riley blindly wanders Manhattan collecting newspaper articles detailing Morgan’s death; and Morgan’s boyfriend, James, quits his job and plans a whirlwind monthslong trip abroad accompanied by Riley. After Karen reveals secrets that undermine Riley’s impression of her seemingly perfect sister, she wishes she’d been more help to Morgan. The author balances her characters’ palpable emotions with whip-smart commentary on cultural commodification, as the sisters joke about their parents’ “Doors of the World” fundraiser, in which doors procured from various countries are auctioned off to wealthy donors. It’s a smash. 

One’s Company

Ashley Hutson. Norton, $16.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-393-86664-3

Hutson’s affecting and ingenious debut follows a woman’s attempt to find refuge from her tragic reality. Bonnie is known in her small town as the convenience store clerk who survived a vicious robbery in which she was sexually assaulted and the store’s owners murdered. Alone in her trailer, she develops an obsession with the 1970s sitcom Three’s Company, in which she finds a “surrogate family, impervious to death or harm.” After she wins a massive lottery payout, she buys a mountaintop property and recreates the show’s apartment complex. Hutson succeeds in describing Bonnie’s quasi-religious devotion to the pop culture artifact without resorting to pompousness. Rather, Hutson instills the enterprise with Bonnie’s sense of impending doom, which she expresses in self-aware narration: “Farce punishes everyone eventually.” The project unfolds in complete secrecy, the actors and crew required to sign NDAs, read Bonnie’s dry synopsis of the show, and watch an episode. (Readers will likely be put in mind of Tom McCarthy’s Remainder more than once.) Once the giant replica set is built, Bonnie plays the sitcom’s various characters in turn, though her isolated splendor is threatened when outsiders intrude onto the compound. This darkly clever work dramatizes the necessity and fragility of illusions, showing how they can crumble when broadcast to the world. Hutson is off to a brilliant start.

Who Is Wellness For?: An Examination of Wellness Culture and Who It Leaves Behind

Fariha Róisín. Harper Wave, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-307708-9

In this blistering blend of memoir and cultural criticism, novelist Róisín (Like a Bird) traces her path to healing as an abuse survivor and takes an unsparing look at the appropriation and corruption of Eastern spiritual practices for Western audiences. Róisín’s childhood was marred by her mother’s unpredictable and violent behavior, and as an adult, those painful memories long went unprocessed. Her healing process, she writes, involved understanding intergenerational trauma and recognizing how it has a physical effect on one’s body, and how interconnected the mind and the body are. Alongside her personal story, Róisín explains how the “wellness industrial complex” works as “a modern arm of imperialism” as “whiteness and capital have... relegat[ed] caring for oneself as a privilege.” Meditation, for instane, has been “divorce[d]... from its spiritual roots,” and while “meditation came from my people,” she writes, she learned about it “through white people’s interpretation.” Ultimately, Róisín’s answer to the question her title poses is that “wellness isn’t for anyone if it isn’t for everyone,” and through vivid writing and striking curiosity, she makes a solid case for making it so. This profoundly enriching survey nails it.

The World as We Knew It: Dispatches from a Changing Climate

Edited by Amy Brady and Tajja Isen. Catapult, $16.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-64-622030-4

Brady, the executive director of Orion magazine, and Catapult editor Isen bring together in this powerful collection 19 essays on the climate crisis. In “What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Antarctica,” Elizabeth Rush describes researching a trip to Antarctica with the National Science Foundation, and reading other writers’ accounts of the frozen continent. Beyond the frequent language of conquering and pioneering, she finds that “what remains is what the ice demands: that we work together in order to survive.” In “How Do You Live with Displacement,” Emily Raboteau compiles a diary of the first three months of 2020, each entry a chronicle of what “people in my network said about what they were losing,” and in “After the Storm,” Mary Annaïse Heglar spotlights the link between escalating natural disasters and racial inequality in the United States as she recalls visiting a Hurricane Katrina–ravaged South. The pieces create a moving mix of resolve and sorrow, painting a vivid picture of an era in which “climate change is altering life on Earth at an unprecedented rate,” but “the majority of us can still remember when things were more stable.” The result is a poignant ode to a changing planet.

Wash Day Diaries

Jamila Rowser and Robyn Smith. Chronicle, $19.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-79720-545-8

With spare dialogue and lush renditions of self-care rituals, Rowser and Smith paint a loving and intimate portrait of city life for a group of young Black women. The ensemble includes Kimana, a singer who is avoiding a scarily persistent suitor, Malik; Nisha, a photographer torn between two guys and the freedom of her “hoe phase”; Davene, who is drawn in blue-and-purple hued panels to reflect a bout of depression; and Cookie, whose Dominican grandmother attempts to make amends for her past homophobia as her granddaughter does her hair. Each story centers a different friend in their clique and is painted in a different rich color palette. Smith’s lithe character design and eye for detail pair nicely with Rowser’s economic storytelling, and Rowser expertly utilizes the group text as a sort of Greek chorus. The arc culminates at Kimana’s performance, where the women band together to stave off both an aggressive Malik and Davene’s looming blues, their colorful personalities coming together in a rainbow. The motif of wash day— as the women wash their own hair and others’, go to the salon, and get braids—invites the reader into the rhythm of their lives, with welcome inclusivity of queer romance, as well as non romantic story lines. This subtle but heartwarming homage to friendship, feminism, and reconciliation sings.

How to Fake It in Hollywood

Ava Wilder. Dell, $17 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-593-35895-5

With this witty, seductive romance, debut author Wilder transports readers to the flashy world of Hollywood. Rising actor Grey Brooks is best known for starring in teen soap Poison Paradise, but she’s struggled to find work since the show ended nearly a year ago. Former A-list movie star Ethan Atkins has been out of the spotlight for five years, drowning his grief over the death of his best friend in alcohol and misanthropy. When their shared PR team pitches the idea of a fake relationship that would boost both their careers, the strangers grudgingly agree. Grey and Ethan’s searing chemistry doesn’t take long to feel like more than just an act, but the demands of Hollywood, endless invasions of their privacy, and Ethan’s drinking test their budding romance. Wilder’s cinematic prose brings Grey and Ethan to life, and she sets their raw, sensitive love story against an alluring portrait of Hollywood glamour. Readers won’t be able to turn the pages fast enough.

The Recruit

Alan Drew. Random House, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-0-399-59212-6

Set in 1987, Drew’s devastating sequel to 2017’s Shadow Man finds police detective Ben Wade responding to an emergency call in Rancho Santa Elena, a planned community south of Los Angeles. Ben drives to a nearby home, where he finds a distraught mother holding a small boy who’s not breathing. Ben manages to get the boy breathing again and drives him to the hospital, where it’s determined he accidentally ingested rat poison. The heinous intent of the near-lethal incident becomes apparent after the body of the child’s missing dog is found in connection with a hate crime targeting a Vietnamese grocery store owner and his family. Ben’s girlfriend, forensic expert Natasha Betencourt, becomes involved after discovering evidence linking the murder of real estate developer Walter Brennan with the crime scenes of other targeted racial attacks. Ben believes Brennan’s killing was in retaliation for his leasing properties to immigrants, whom some view as a threat. Ben and Natasha soon get on the trail of a growing white supremacist movement. Drew takes a nuanced approach in tackling the conflicts of gentrification. This socially complex police procedural, with its issues that remain all too relevant today, deserves a wide audience. 

O Say Can You Hear: A Cultural Biography of The Star-Spangled Banner

Mark Clague. Norton, $28.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-393-65138-6

Musicologist Clague debuts with a sparkling study of America’s national anthem. He recounts how the successful defense of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry against the British navy’s bombardment during the War of 1812 inspired lawyer Francis Scott Key—who witnessed the battle from an unarmed “truce ship” in the city’s harbor—to describe the event in lyrics set to the tune of an 18th-century song composed by Englishman John Stafford Smith. Such “newspaper ballads,” Clague explains, were “the viral meme, tweets, and TikToks of early America.” Noting that “no other song of the era became so broadly popular so fast,” Clague analyzes the lyrics’ “volatile emotional journey, from fear and uncertainty through relief and pride, to anger and determination, to pious gratitude and prayer, and finally to patriotic devotion,” and examines alternative versions penned to support abolition, unionization, and other progressive causes. He also vividly recreates noteworthy performances, including Jimi Hendrix’s psychedelic reinterpretation at Woodstock, Roseanne Barr’s profane recital in front of an MLB crowd, and Whitney Houston’s stirring rendition at the 1991 Super Bowl. Stuffed with colorful character sketches, intriguing historical arcana, and memorable musical insights, this pitch-perfect history hits all the right notes.