The pick of our favorite books coming out this week include new titles by Tsitsi Dangarembga, Julian Winters, and Benjamin Stevenson.

Black and Female: Essays

Tsitsi Dangarembga. Graywolf, $23 (168p) ISBN 978-1-64445-211-0
These incisive, impassioned essays by novelist Dangarembga (Nervous Conditions) confront the lingering effects of imperialism in Zimbabwe. She examines empire, racism, and misogyny through personal stories about growing up in what was then called Rhodesia and contrasts her experiences there with a stint she spent living with a foster family in Dover, England. In “Writing While Black and Female,” Dangarembga remembers learning the power of language from its ability to produce action (“After adults spoke to each other, things happened: little children were left”), and relates how writing allows her to transcend racial and gender categories by building and affirming an identity independent of them. She examines Zimbabwe’s pre- and post-colonial history of gender inequality, noting that colonial legislation treated adult women as minors and lamenting how as a child, her brother once felt compelled to ally himself with the “toxic masculinity” of their father by offering his belt to beat her with. Calling for “mental decolonisation,” the author argues that Black feminists must play a crucial role in building a more just future because they “have experienced the more repressive edge of most demographic categories and not succumbed.” Dangarembga’s candid reflections and lyrical prose bring urgency to this thought-provoking argument for political and social equality. Readers won’t want to miss this. (Jan.)

As You Walk On By

Julian Winters. Viking, $18.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-20650-8
After queer Black 17-year-old Theo’s public promposal goes sideways, he must reconsider his past actions, current relationships, and future goals in this earnest romance by Winters (Right Where I Left You). Best friends Theo, Darren, and Jay have a tradition of daring each other into humorous and occasionally embarrassing situations, such as belting out Mariah Carey in their Louisville, Ky., magnet school’s quad, a welcome distraction from his father’s expectations. Jay dares Theo to ask his crush, Christian, to prom; Theo accepts, excited for the opportunity to have his “big magically gay prom night.” When Theo promposes at a house party, however, Christian reveals that he has a boyfriend. Convinced that Jay knew and set him up, Theo and his friends have an emotional blowout fueled by years of Theo’s buried frustration stemming from internal turmoil as the least affluent and only queer person in their group. Hiding out in an empty bedroom, Theo is eventually joined by fellow partygoers, including his former best friend, Aleah, each of whom is struggling in the aftermath of a hurtful conflict. Creating an outstanding, intersectionally diverse supporting cast whose personalities glimmer with dynamic energy, Winters skillfully centers showing up for oneself and communicating honestly amid an infectious celebration of queer romantic gestures. Ages 12–up. Agent: Thao Le, Sandra Dijkstra Literary. (Jan.)

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone

Benjamin Stevenson. Mariner, $28.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-327902-5
Ernie Cunningham, the narrator of this exceptionally clever and amusing mystery from Stevenson (Either Side of Midnight), hooks the reader immediately with his opening words: “Everyone in my family has killed someone. Some of us, the high achievers, have killed more than once.” Ernie, who acknowledges up front the recent trend in crime fiction for narrators such as himself to be unreliable, self-publishes how-to books for aspiring authors. As another character comments, “You write books about how to write books that you’ve never written, bought by people who will never write one.” It’s been three years since Ernie’s testimony sent his brother Michael to prison for murder after Michael asked Ernie to dispose of a corpse that turned out not to be quite dead yet. While attending a tense family reunion at an Australian ski resort, Ernie winds up in the middle of a real-life whodunit. The death of a stranger, apparently killed by a fire in the snow that didn’t melt any snow, resembles the work of a serial murderer known as the Black Tongue. Along the way, the author tosses in other deaths, past and present. Stevenson carries off this tour de force with all the aplomb of a master magician who conducts his tricks in plain view. This is perfect for Peter Lovesey fans. Agent: Pippa Masson, Curtis Brown Australia. (Jan.)

Boundless as the Sky

Dawn Raffel. Sagging Meniscus, $18 trade paper (146p) ISBN 978-1-952386-41-1
Raffel (The Strange Case of Dr. Couney) draws inspiration from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and the history of Chicago’s 1933 World’s Fair for this sublime collection, which is divided into two parts. The first section, titled “The City Toward Which My Journey Tends,” contains a litany of short, poetic flash pieces, each offering a sketch of a city or place: in “The Beautiful City of Serena,” old women wear masks, their faces never revealed, while in “The All-New Sanitary City,” sneezing is illegal. At times, the urban landscapes give way to more pastoral settings, such as in “Far from the Sea,” in which the characters “lay in the tall grass.... Skin to reed, to blade, a green prickle.” In the collection’s second, eponymous section, historical figures like Rufus Cutler Dawes, President of the Century of Progress, mingle with imagined players at the 1933 World’s Fair, along with various attendees, performers, and Chicago residents. This profile of a city within a city creates a Russian nesting doll of urban tableaux: “And now comes the time to raise the shade on the city, the real one, cupping the Century of Progress, a perishable prize, in its hand,” Raffel writes in “Streamers and Signs.” This is one to savor. (Jan.)

Wade in the Water

Nyani Nkrumah. Amistad, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-322661-6
Nkrumah’s stunning debut revolves around an unlikely friendship between an 11-year-old Black girl and a middle-aged white woman in 1982 Ricksville, Miss., and the segregated town’s fraught history. Intelligent, questioning Ella stands out in her light-skinned Black family because she is the result of her mother’s fling with a much darker-skinned man. Her ne’er-do-well stepfather Leroy is seldom home, but when he is, he takes out his rage and humiliation by sexually abusing Ella, while her mother treats her with contempt and frequent whippings. Meanwhile, a white Princeton University professor named Katherine St. James, who was raised in Mississippi, stirs things up when she moves into the Black half of town for a research project. Though it’s been almost 20 years since the killings of three voting-rights activists nearby, the case remains unsolved and racial tensions still run high. Against this backdrop, Katherine becomes a tutor and mother figure to the love-starved Ella, but as shocking revelations emerge about Katherine’s past in 1960s Mississippi, Nkrumah leads readers to reflect on the limits of the professor’s good intentions. The author is supremely gifted at bringing both her characters and their close-knit rural town to life. Readers will eagerly await more from this writer. Agent: Charlotte Sheedy, Charlotte Sheedy Literary. (Jan.)


Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Morrow, $28.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-314238-1
Divakaruni (The Last Queen) captures the upheaval and devastation of the partition of British India in this dazzling tale of three Hindu sisters caught up in the violent events. In 1947, Deepa, Priya, and Jamini Ganguly live with their father, Baba, and mother, Bina. Their once-peaceful Bengal village of Ranipur becomes a site of violence between Hindus and Muslims as independence looms. After Baba dies in the carnage, Bina takes to her bed, unable to work. Deepa, whose beauty is expected to bring a prestigious marriage, falls in love with Raza, a Muslim leader, and Bina banishes her as a result. Priya, who dreams of becoming a doctor, believes her fiancé, Amit, will wait for her to finish medical school, but he breaks their engagement. Amit, who still loves Priya, marries Jamini, the result of a misunderstood deathbed promise from Baba to Amit. Deepa’s situation becomes dire when Raza dies in the sectarian violence; in a hair-raising rescue into the new Pakistan, where Deepa has concealed her Hindu identity, family and friends save her from an army captain who’s trying to force her into marriage. Divakaruni seamlessly weaves the political upheaval into the characters’ lives, including the nation’s bereavement after Gandhi’s assassination and Priya’s meeting with the female resistance leader Sarojini Naidu, while also depicting the beauty, vitality, and vastness of India. This is a must. Agent: Simon Lipskar, Writers House. (Jan.)

Forbidden Notebook

Alba de Céspedes, trans. from the Italian by Ann Goldstein. Astra House, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-66260-139-2
Late Italo-Cuban author de Céspedes (Between Then and Now) spins a fearlessly probing and candid look at marital dynamics and generational divisions, first published in Italy in 1952. Narrator Valeria Cossati views her life, aside from getting married and having children, as “rather insignificant,” until November 1950, when she starts keeping a journal in pursuit of the idea that “if we can learn to understand the smallest things that happen every day, then maybe we can learn to truly understand the secret meaning of life.” She reflects on her family’s financial troubles, which persist despite her job as a secretary, and society’s domestic expectations of her to prioritize being a mother and wife. Her daughter, Mirella, 19, starts staying out late with a man in his 30s, while her son, Riccardo, resentful of his younger sister’s aspirations, courts a mousy, traditional girl. Valeria’s husband, Michele, buoyed briefly by a raise, loses himself in dreams of a career change, as Valeria, frustrated at Michele’s neglect, fantasizes about an affair with her boss, Guido, and glimpses a richer, more passionate world. The diary takes on a life of its own for Valeria; she calls it “an evil spirit,” which de Céspedes (1911–1997) makes palpable. As Valeria writes, she finds herself “drawn into acts that I condemn and yet which, like this notebook, I seem unable to do without.” Goldstein’s translation invigorates a remarkable story, one that remains intensely relevant across time, cultures, and continents. (Jan.)

Tell Me I’m Worthless

Alison Rumfitt. Nightfire, $17.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-86623-3
Rumfitt’s sharp and uncompromising debut explores queer identity, trauma, and the damage people cause one another amid an increasingly fascist society. Alice is a transgender camgirl in modern-day Britain whose life has grown ever more hopeless and claustrophobic after an incident at a haunted house three years before the start of the book. The horrific experience—which Alice shared with her former friends Ila, who’s since become wildly transphobic, and Hannah, who went into the house and never came out—has left Alice haunted by a pervasive, malevolent force that occasionally manifests itself as the racist lead singer of an ’80s pop band. When Ila contacts her again to suggest returning to the house and so closing the circle on their mutual trauma, Alice agrees—but will facing their fears really be enough to give the women their closure and push them toward forgiveness? Rumfitt swings for the fences with this inventive take on the haunted house novel, and she succeeds, maintaining the emotional core of the story even amid outrageous gore and graphic sexual violence. The impact of each escalating horror always lands in the reader’s heart, even if it first takes a detour through the stomach. Rumfitt has points to make but she manages to narrowly avoid didacticism, tying the many elements of this powerful horror story together in an impressive ending that offers no easy answers. The result is a triumph of transgressive queer horror. (Jan.)