This week, four authors of acclaimed debut novels—Xochitl Gonzalez, Rachel Lyon, Lucas Rijneveld, and Adelle Waldman—return for their sophomore efforts. Will their respective followups to Olga Dies Dreaming, Self-Portrait with a Boy, The Discomfort of Evening, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. live up to readers' expectations? Here's what our reviewers had to say.

Anita de Monte Laughs Last

Xochitl Gonzalez. Flatiron, $28.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-78621-0
Gonzalez (Olga Dies Dreaming) takes inspiration from the mysterious 1985 death of Cuban American artist Ana Mendieta for this astute account of an art history student who researches the circumstances of a similar tragedy. Award winning Cuban artist Anita de Monte, who is married to successful minimalist artist Jack Martin (a stand in for the sculptor Carl Andre), mysteriously plummets to her death from the window of their 33rd-floor apartment in New York City. Gonzalez then jumps to 1998, when third-year Brown University art history student Raquel Toro is on the brink of starting her senior thesis on Martin. Raquel begins a coveted summer internship with Belinda Kim, an acclaimed Asian American feminist curator opposed to the “art for art’s sake” philosophy trumpeted by Raquel’s white thesis adviser. Under Kim’s tutelage, Raquel learns of de Monte’s mysterious death, propelling her research on Martin in an unexpected direction. Her own life begins to resemble de Monte’s when she falls for a Brown classmate, a wealthy white up-and-coming artist with ties to the New York art world. Just as de Monte played second fiddle to Martin during their marriage, Raquel’s boyfriend downplays her research, and both relationships fray due to the men’s deceitful and manipulative behavior. In addition to the intrigue generated by Raquel’s search for answers about de Monte’s death, Gonzalez crafts excoriating and whip-smart commentary on the art world’s Eurocentric conceptions of beauty and the racism faced by first-generation students of color. This is incandescent. Agent: Mollie Glick, CAA. (Mar.)

My Heavenly Favorite

Lucas Rijneveld. Graywolf, $28 (344p) ISBN 978-1-64445-273-8
The unsettling latest from International Booker Prize winner Rijneveld (for The Discomfort of Evening) portrays a middle-aged man’s obsession with a farmer’s daughter. Kurt, a 49-year-old veterinarian, addresses his narration to the 14-year-old girl, referred to only as his “heavenly favorite,” while he is in prison for sexually abusing her. Recollecting their time together, Kurt rationalizes his abuse by claiming he’s the first man to see the girl as an adult. The bulk of the narrative dramatizes his abuse of her, which begins when he molests her in a movie theater. He also addresses her struggles with deciding whether she wants to be a boy, and asks: “Who are you now, the bird, the Frog or the otter?” In Kurt’s mind, an injured bird symbolizes the loss of the girl’s innocence due to menstruation, and the Frog, a reference to a boy with a “handsome face” who’d kissed her, embodies her masculine aspirations. After Kurt dissects an otter in front of her, she takes his knife and castrates the specimen, then holds up its penis bone “like a trophy” and asks him to “dissect” her. What follows can be a little murky, as Kurt questions whether he’s dreaming up some of what he remembers, but it’s clear that he rapes her, and that she later attempts suicide. Despite the dark subject matter, the novel’s unrelenting pace and single-paragraph structure entrance. This striking chronicle of delusion is hard to shake. (Mar.)

Help Wanted

Adelle Waldman. Norton, $28.99 (278p) ISBN 978-1-324-02044-8
Waldman’s perceptive sophomore novel (after The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.) centers on the employees of a big-box store in Upstate New York. Nine of them are a part of the Movement team, arriving at four a.m. to unload trucks, unpack boxes, and stock the shelves before the store opens. Team manager Meredith, who’s under pressure from corporate headquarters to maintain the department’s budget, alienates the others by refusing requests for additional work hours or raises, contributing to their struggles to make ends meet. When the store manager announces he’s transferring to another location, and that corporate will be coming to interview employees to decide which team manager will take his role, Movement member Val sees an opportunity to get rid of Meredith by pushing to promote her. Val and the other team members put the plan in action, and several of them begin fantasizing about a promotion. Though Waldman touches only briefly on the employees’ personal lives, making it difficult to keep all the characters straight, the narrative builds to a satisfying and surprising conclusion. It’s a bracing and worthwhile glimpse of the high stakes faced by low-wage workers. (Mar.)

Fruit of the Dead

Rachel Lyon. Scribner, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-66802-085-2
Lyon (Self-Portrait with Boy) puts a modern twist on the myth of Persephone and Demeter in this irresistible narrative of a naive teenager and her protective mother. Cory is an 18-year-old camp counselor and recent high school graduate with no plans for college when she meets pharmaceutical company CEO Rolo Picazo, the slick and wealthy parent of a young camper named Spenser, and accepts his offer to work as a nanny after camp is over. Dazzled by the $20,000 starting salary and promises of “advancement,” Cory ignores a red flag involving news of the company’s controversial new opiate, which is drowning in litigation due to overdoses. After she joins Rolo on his remote private island in an unspecified ocean (on the way, Cory calls her mother, Emer, with the news of her new job and living situation, and says she’s unclear on the geography), the nanny arrangement takes on a sinister cast as Cory learns that one of her predecessors has mysteriously vanished. There’s also an unnerving absence of Wi-Fi, and Emer grows increasingly worried as Cory remains unreachable. Eventually, Emer embarks on a search and rescue mission to save her “distractible, undisciplined” daughter from Rolo’s sinister clutches. The story is brilliantly told through Cory’s and Emer’s alternating perspectives, as Lyon volleys from vibrant third-person narration focused on the teenager to her mother’s frantic first-person inner monologue. The result is an affecting, engrossing, and resonant tale about lost innocence and the enduring bond between a mother and daughter. Agent: Meredith Kaffel Simonoff, Gernert Co. (Mar.)