Book Reviews

REVIEW: All the World Beside by Garrard Conley

Reviewed by Toby LaPlant Garrard Conley, author of the bestselling memoir Boy Erased, makes his fiction debut with All the World Beside, a soft-spoken exploration of the interplay between religious belief and personal fulfillment, and how love, in its many varieties, can expand our understanding of who makes up a family. With complex characters that embody contemporary relationships to sexuality and gender while belonging wholly to Conley’s historical setting, the novel is a compelling invitation to leap into faith in a queer past that remains largely hidden. Set in colonial America, in the aftermath of the ferocious exercise of condemnation…

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REVIEW: The City of Stardust by Georgia Summers

Reviewed by Dave Oei Georgia Summers’s debut novel The City of Stardust blends urban and high fantasy into an adventure that spans the English countryside, the continents, places hidden beneath and around us, and the mystical world of Fidelis, a land filled with equal parts magic and horror. It’s a story of a young woman, Violet Everly, who has inherited a family curse and is hell-bent on averting it. Failure means her death. Violet’s adversaries include, among others, a mysterious woman named Penelope who wields insurmountable power; Penelope’s reluctant, heat-starved assistant Yuri; and one particularly hungry ancient god chained under…

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Voice to Books: Magical Realism and BIPOC Authors

  Magical realism is often associated with the works of Latin-American authors such as Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende, and Jorge Luis Borges. However, in an essay for the New York Times titled “Saying Goodbye to Magical Realism,” Silvia Moreno-Garcia describes how the term can be problematic and limiting, not just for Latin-American authors, but for writers as a whole. By mislabeling works as magical realism, she says, we lose our chance at having more “nuanced, complex conversations about books”—e.g., how stories might fit within multiple genres, moods, aesthetics, and textures beyond easily marketable categories that unintentionally strip them of…

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REVIEW: Yellowface by R.F. Kuang

Reviewed by Francesca Jimenez In Yellowface, R.F. Kuang delivers a bingeable, page-turner about cultural appropriation and racial identity. The novel also explores self-victimizing, delusional, and conspiratorial effects of social media, fueled by exploitative, capitalistic values that permeate publishing and are embedded in every crevice of society. Athena Liu and June Hayward followed identical writing paths throughout college, meeting at Yale and taking the same classes. But their career similarities end there. The novel begins at the height of Athena’s career, having achieved the dream: three best-selling books from a major publisher, stellar reviews, multiple awards, and praise across all media…

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REVIEW: The Way to Be by Barbara T. Smith

Reviewed by Maxamina Muro The Way to Be, Barbara T. Smith’s memoir, is a ride through the life of a woman born in the 1930s, married in the 1950s, who then emerges as a performance artist in the 1960s, when feminism and equal rights for women became more prominent political and legal movements. While these causes were rooted in practical matters like pay equity, parental rights, and career and academic agency, Smith’s work explored the areas of a woman’s life not covered by laws before, during, and after this time of monumental change. Though Smith doesn’t explicitly say so, it’s…

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REVIEW: Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor

Reviewed by Betty-Jo Tilley A car crash opens Deepti Kapoor’s novel, Age of Vice, the first of three sweeping sagas about organized crime in contemporary India. This prologue provides a metaphor for the story’s roadmap—a fast-paced and riveting collision course of deception, romance and ambition—and introduces the disparity between rich and poor in a world where only the wealthy win and everyone else’s demise is predetermined by their lower caste. When police arrive at the scene of the accident, they find the chauffeur of the totaled Mercedes passed out, an empty bottle at his side. To show limitless brutality, Kapoor…

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REVIEW: Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma by Claire Dederer

Reviewed by Melinda Gordon Blum In November 2017, Claire Dederer’s Paris Review essay “What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men” documented her personal, lifelong experience of grappling with the problem of separating the art from the artist, exploring whether this is something achievable or even necessary. Monsters is, in part, the book-length outgrowth of that piece. A genre-bridging hybrid of memoir and criticism, the book examines the histories of several artists who (in current terminology) might be classified as problematic. It describes a journey that began when Dederer was a young woman, whose burgeoning identities of writer,…

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REVIEW: Easy Beauty by Chloé Cooper Jones

Reviewed by Jennifer Schuberth While Chloé Cooper Jones’s Easy Beauty is a gripping memoir about parenting, disabilities, and figuring out what to do next, it is also a philosophical masterpiece, written in the tradition of those who see philosophy not as a dry academic subject but as a way of life. In prose that is gorgeous, concise, and often very funny, Cooper Jones explores how she has become a person who can say “I am here” and mean it, while also offering the reader practical advice about how to become such a person. Cooper Jones wants to be “in the…

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REVIEW: Wolfish: Wolf, Self, and the Stories We Tell About Fear by Erica Berry

Reviewed by Jeannine Burgdorf Erica Berry’s first book, Wolfish: Wolf, Self, and the Stories We Tell About Fear, casts a wide net, examining definitions of nature, the built environment, borders, nations, history and the self within the context of characterizations of wolves. Ambitious in scope and at times dense with references that can seem digressive, the book maintains Berry’s thesis across its more than 400 pages, organized in chapters that reinforce the Girl v. Wolf, Truth v. Wolf, Self v. Wolf. Each fact and fiction she chooses reinforces that humans live with wolves as a construct, within a cultural understanding,…

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Voice to Books: We Need Diverse Writing Workshops

Ask writers from a marginalized community about their workshop experiences, and far too many can reply with stories of being stereotyped, exoticized, infantilized, or disregarded—by fellow workshop participants and instructors alike—for being queer, non-white, female, gender-nonconforming, disabled, neurodivergent, etc. Although more people have vocalized these concerns and requested more diverse creative writing faculties, budget cuts and hiring freezes sometimes hamper even the most well-intentioned attempts at equity and inclusion. But that means writing instructors must hold themselves accountable for creating more open-minded learning environments and take action. Claiming support for marginalized communities is not enough; true allyship involves making a…

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Voice to Books: Queer Voices of Color

Constraint is often the birthplace of creativity, but it is also the birthplace of struggle and limitation. Arguably, no other people know this better than queer people of color. Faced with the oppression of their very existence, their intersectional identities allow them to thrive in radical self-acceptance and illuminate the horrors they and others face in their daily lives with grace and fearlessness. In this issue of Voice to Books, we highlight queer authors of color and the characters of color in their stories who show that their identities are more than just checkboxes on questionnaires. We also see glimpses…

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Book Review: Kids in America: A Gen X Reckoning by Liz Prato

Reviewed by L.A. Hunt In Liz Prato’s latest collection of essays, Kids in America: A Gen X Reckoning, she examines Gen-Xers through first-hand boots-on-the-ground accounts. The thing is, as any Gen-Xer will argue, there’s no real club membership card or forgotten generation subscription, and they prefer it that way. They proudly defy categorization, which makes it difficult to sort an entire generation into generic categories. Despite this, Prato’s narrative fearlessly mines early eighties pop culture for the roots of present-day misogyny and bigotry, and the collection strives for tangible cohesion and concise analysis. Prato, a Gen-Xer herself, tersely describes the…

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