A Year in Rumpus Book Reviews


In her review of Stephanie Strickland’s How the Universe Is Made, Rumpus contributor and book reviewer Julie Marie Wade writes:

A review, after all, isn’t a book report (mostly summative) or an academic treatise (mostly polemical). And to review a book isn’t about mastering the text so much as it is about making introductions at a crowded party (so many worthy books to hob-nob with!), sparking conversations between a single book and its many future readers, its many future guests.

The Rumpus hopes to spark as many conversations about great books as possible. These conversations are integral to literary community because it is through talking about books that writers become better writers and readers become better readers.

In May, The Rumpus introduced our new books editor, Chelsea Leu. Previously, Chelsea had reviewed books for The Rumpus including Nicole Chung’s All You Can Ever Know and Leni Zuma’s Red Clocks, and she has also written for LARB and the New York Times. In August, we brought on Zain Aslam as our new poetry reviews editor. Zain is a poet, editor, designer, and community organizer based in San Francisco. Together, they work tirelessly to provide the excellent, inclusive books coverage we want you to expect from us.

Below, you can find a list of every book review we ran this year. They are all worth (re-)reading. – Marisa Siegel, EIC



Blue Rose by Carol Muske-Dukes (reviewed by Gillian Neimark)
“These poems offer us pictures of unsung choices that shape women’s lives—to terminate a pregnancy or to give birth and risk death, to hide a father or to give up a son, to watch your husband put your daughter’s life in danger yet love and accept him still, to discover the deep pattern upon which all life constructs itself yet die without the prize. To chart life’s cathedral—to enter that cathedral half a century later as a young scientist.”

Who Is Mary Sue? by Sophie Collins (reviewed by Jeannine Hall Gailey)
“When reading this book, expect your notions of speaker—and even what a book of poetry is—to be challenged. Who Is Mary Sue? isn’t easy and it doesn’t try to be easy. If you are unafraid of a challenge, Who Is Mary Sue? rewards with thought-provoking juxtapositions and original ways of thinking about an important subject, an electric current that runs through much of contemporary culture: how exactly women are allowed to present their art, and who decides that.”

There Will Be No Miracles Here by Casey Gerald (reviewed by Zakiya Harris)
There Will Be No Miracles Here is not a blueprint on how to ‘make it out,’ although it very well could be. Gerald’s story doesn’t fit tidily into a speech or a newspaper lede or conversation over dinner despite how many people try to make it so. Rather, this book is Gerald’s attempt to construct his own narrative as best as he can, and it’s successful. It teaches, it confounds. It’s funny, and sometimes it makes you suck your teeth in irritation. But whether you identify with Gerald or not, it’s undeniable that what he lays bare in this memoir is just as vulnerable as D’Angelo standing naked against that black background. Because, as successful as Gerald has become, he is able to acknowledge that he has not come out of it all unscathed. In a particular moment of deep unhappiness, he finds himself wondering, ‘What is wrong with me? Ever wonder that?’“

The Explosive Expert’s Wife by Shara Lessley (reviewed by Hannah Vanderhart)
“That The Explosive Expert’s Wife does not provide an escape from a brutal world is part of its comfort, and makes it a text the reader can carry with them into the world, with its attentions to violence and tenderness resonant with human experience. Lessley’s poems remind us: “Because to cry’s / a sign, to cry is proof, / there’s life.”“

Urgent Connections: Negative Space by Luljeta Lleshanaku, translated by Ani Gjika, and Too Afraid to Cry by Ali Cobby Eckermann (reviewed by Barbara Berman)
“Tears. Negative space. Shaping and illuminating both. Two strong, alert women who have articulated their tribulations and the tribulations of others. There’s no such thing as too much of this kind of light, especially in dark times.”



Moon: Letters, Maps, Poems by Jennifer S. Cheng (reviewed by Julie Marie Wade)
“Reading Moon was a hypnotic experience for me, simultaneously immersive and elusive. I’d surface from the pages having lost track of time, sensing the world around me had shifted, subtly, but unable to pinpoint how. How, after all, do you describe the force field of a particular literary project, the gravitational pull of a fellow writer’s work? In the case of Jennifer S. Cheng’s Moon: Letters, Maps, Poems, I chose to engage these questions in the form of a letter, a map, and a poem.”

Objects of Affection by Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough (reviewed by Melissa Oliveira)
“While Hryniewicz-Yarbrough explores the discomfort of dislocation and exile from language, she also writes about the gift that came from it: a bilingual proficiency that made her a creative writer in English. ‘The change I underwent,’ she writes, ‘was prompted by the change in my external circumstances, but the outward conditions ultimately led me to who I may have been all along.’ It isn’t exactly returning home that she describes, but a reinvention born from being at home in two languages.”

Republic Café by David Biespiel (reviewed by Christian Anton Gerard)
“I assure you that beauty, passion, and soul are alive and well in Republic Café, and that flexibility is a kind of freedom (aesthetic and not) that Biespiel couples with duty and responsibility. I assure you that David Biespiel has worked to help us remember why poets make poems. Nothing is served in Republic Café lukewarm or indifferent.”

Landscape with Sex and Violence by Lynn Melnick (reviewed by Risa Denenberg)
“Melnick’s craft is in the extreme language and unfamiliar syntax which blends a brew that, while bitter, is also intoxicating. The salient qualities of her writing are imagery and metaphor, sandwiched within slices of irony and self-deprecation. The imagery is wide-ranging, surprising, in-your-face, and remarkably visual.”

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (reviewed by Amelia Possanza)
Lost Children Archive is a novel written with the eye of an essayist, each moment dissected rather than lived. It’s like a road trip in its own right, meandering, sometimes filled with absorbing, delicious conversation, sometimes haunted by the nagging question, How much further to the end? I can revel at the beauty and rigor of its construction. In an era when the possibility of a border wall brings the government to a grinding halt and child migrants are dying at border detention centers, the novel is no doubt timely, but it leaves me right where I started: wondering how we will find our way out of this mess.”

Total Recall by Samantha Giles (reviewed by torrin a. greathouse)
“Samantha Giles’s third collection, Total Recall, is a hybrid memoir that constructs itself in a fashion not wholly unlike a camera obscura. For a memoir that concerns itself so directly with trauma, as well as our memory of it, the book is almost eerily devoid of violence. There are only a few brief moments when the reader is invited into the site of brutality, made to reckon with that which Giles is not supposed to remember.”

Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev (reviewed by Margaret Malone)
“The full, naked agony of Shalmiyev’s childhood is only glimpsed in short bursts of memory—the pain is too much to tell you about head-on. In fact, the full view of the author’s trauma isn’t revealed until the final third of the book, when the squares of the quilt are stitched together in the reader’s mind, and the full, horrible reality of her experience as a child without a mother, as a young woman without a mother, and as a mother without a mother at last reveals itself.”



Melodic, Honorable Engagement: To Keep Him Hidden by Ryan Vine, After the Afterlife by T. R. Hummer, From the Files of the Immanent Foundation by Norman Finkelstein (reviewed by Barbara Berman)
“Reading Vine, Hummer, and Finkelstein, in an era in which people often feel almost flattened, we rise.”

I Am Yours by Reema Zaman (reviewed by Julie Moon)
“By writing her way to this realization, Reema teaches us a new way to think about self-love and self-care and all the terms we use today to envision total connectedness to oneself. She teaches us that something magical—perhaps revolutionary—happens when we engage in dialogue with ourselves: we close the hyphen between the self and something good. She teaches us a new way to think about what writing means, and why we write, and what it means to honor the human voice above all when we tell our stories.”

Kill Class by Nomi Stone (reviewed by Molly Spencer)
“In moments like this, when we are face to face with the skin of another person, the answer to Kill Class’s questions emerges: When the world (or our elected officials) wants to put us in a role, when it wants us to play along—tells us something’s real when it’s not; asks us to decide who’s good and who’s bad; and for some, actually requires us to go to war—our only hope is to cling to whatever is human in us, to hold some province of ourselves back.”

The Carrying by Ada Limón (reviewed by Issa Lewis)
“Limón’s ability to express her speaker’s connection to the earth, her desire to bring forth life in all its forms, is breathtaking.”

Registers of Illuminated Villages by Tarfia Faizullah (reviewed by Risa Denenberg)
“In her winding path, Faizullah offers us more than history, more than memoir, even more than compassion and intelligence. She offers memory itself as a path forward.”



Five Books for National Poetry Month: Holy Ghost by David Brazil, Autobiography of Death by Kim Hyesoon, How to Dress a Fish by Abigail Chabitnoy, Monsters I Have Been by Kenji C. Liu,  and Eye Level by Jenny Xie (reviewed by Barbara Berman)
“Poetry reviews can be painful celebrations because so many poets are producing fearless, important work, and work that does not slight craft when facing our political reality.”

How the Universe Is Made by Stephanie Strickland (reviewed by Julie Marie Wade)
“Stephanie Strickland is a prospector, in every sense of that multivalent word. She is open to all the prospects. Every poem she writes is a prospectus, with room for changes still retained in the final document—not erased or expunged, as with most revisions, but rather enfolded into the poem’s evolving form.”

NOS (disorder, not otherwise specified) by Aby Kaupang and Matthew Cooperman (reviewed by Cassandra Cleghorn)
“Most searchingly, this book points to a redefinition of love as the most strenuous form of surrender.”

Forgive the Body This Failure by Blas Falconer (reviewed by Dameion Wagner)
“What stands out for me, aside from the openness of each poem, is the strength of the thematic elements present throughout the collection. Falconer touches something deeply personal in all of us, and we are the better for it.”



The Specimen’s Apology by George Abraham (reviewed by torrin a. greathouse)
“If consolidation is not only a gathering together of disparate parts into a singular body, but also ‘the process of stabilization from short to long-term memory,’ then perhaps it is not just this final poem, but the entirety of Abraham’s chapbook that resists consolidation. These poems refuse to be reduced or simplified, and contain within them series of personal and cultural wounds which are reopened again and again. A trauma that rests in the perpetual present, never far enough removed to consolidate into the distance of time.”

Heart Like a Window, Mouth Like a Cliff by Sara Bojas (reviewed by Emily Pérez)
“Borjas takes a small town and a small family unit and explodes them into a socio-psychological study of race, class, and gender in the United States. The poems are tonally varied, formally playful, and often breathtaking. Like a conversation with a dear friend over drinks, this collection provides a full emotional tune-up and elicits more than one ‘hell yeah!’ I left it feeling both stronger and more tender for having listened to the music of this mouth, having viewed life through the panes of this heart.”

Three Books from New Directions: In Her Feminine Sign by Dunya Mikhail, Silence, Joy by Thomas Merton and edited by Christopher Wait, and 33 Poems by Robert Lax and edited by Thomas Kellein (reviewed by Barbara Berman)
“Robert Lax and Thomas Merton were disciplined listeners, and gave light in dark times and comfort to the distressed. Encountering them now, they help remind us, as Mikhail does, that those of us with first-world lives should reach beyond our own cultures and interior difficulties to push back against the beasts in our midst.”

Stay by Tanya Olson (reviewed by Risa Denenberg)
“I found a lot of wisdom in Stay. These are some of my impressions of this astonishing work. Of course, I don’t know if they are right or wrong, but that’s okay. Read Stay. Have your own thoughts.”



Ridiculous Light by Valencia Robin (reviewed by Nichole LeFebvre)
“The poems of Ridiculous Light are wary of hope yet keep thrumming toward it. Here is a book that takes on the complex task of expanding our capacity for joy, for mundane pleasures, while also reckoning with systemic racism, large-scale catastrophe, and daily, personal pain.”

Angel Bones by Ilyse Kusnetz (reviewed by Barbara Berman)
“The title poem, the penultimate piece, is a farewell that refutes the totality of conventional ideas of death, becoming the benediction Forché gives it at the end of her introduction: ‘Cherish this book with the tears it will deliver. Treat it as a hymnal, alive with transcendent songs.’“

Pain Woman Takes Your Keys by Sonya Huber (reviewed by Taylor Wilke)
“I think it’s safe to say that Sonya Huber has restored my faith in chronic illness narratives. Even though I still don’t have answers to most of my own big questions, I’ve been reminded that I don’t have to face them alone. Which I am very thankful for—it was getting a little bleak over here in my cynic’s corner. Now, if I have my way, this book will sneak its way into the lives of many future readers, regardless of their personal experience with chronic illness. Even if they don’t love it, they may find that they needed it, just like I did.”

Save the Bathwater by Marina Carreira (reviewed by Carla Sofia Ferreira)
“When I first heard Carreira read at the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival in our shared hometown of Newark, I witnessed something I had never seen before: another Portuguese-American woman reading poetry. She captured in her reading and in this debut what it is like to grow up in the Ironbound and the many contradictions of being at once of and apart from this country, of struggling within an American identity that is defined by its otherness. While the book therefore holds personal significance to me, I think that more importantly, it illuminates an under-explored narrative within the myriad immigrant experiences in this country. It challenges the ready assumptions of those who have not called Newark home, of those who do not know what it is like to have your adolescence peppered with azeite e chouriças e caracois, to grow up both American and not. It challenges the assumption of what it means to save the bathwater.”

Checkpoint by David Albahari (reviewed by Natalia Holtzman)
“I don’t want to say that Checkpoint is a kind of cheap allegory for the Yugoslav wars. It’s not; like any fine novel, it can be understood on several levels at once. But it is also darkly reminiscent of the country and context from which its writer came.”



The Atlas of Reds and Blues by Devi S. Laskar (reviewed by Claire Calderón)
“Unflinching and fueled by a seeking that forgoes simple resolution, The Atlas of Reds and Blues is a masterful hybrid of forms: it’s a poet-journalist’s journey to collect and interrogate evidence, to study the geography of a woman of color’s trauma, and to reckon with the legacy of violence that guards the gates of American belonging.”

Insomnia by Marina Benjamin (reviewed by Rajat Singh)
“In sensitive, incantatory prose, Benjamin recounts her lifelong experience with sleeplessness, a cruel effect of the mind’s inability to let the body go. Insomnia is a heartless condition, she tells us, an unsparing affliction in which our consciousness hangs ‘suspended in uncertainty.’ When a full night’s sleep is unavailable or impossible, we don’t quite feel like ourselves. We’re far from a state of rest we know and trust. But in the throes of insomnia, we’re also so unfailingly present that we cannot escape ourselves. We lie awake watching our own minds. And yet, as Benjamin discovers, an intense, otherworldly beauty exists when we keep sleep away.”

Knock Wood by Jennifer Militello (reviewed by Tania Pabón Acosta)
“Militello starts her book by indoctrinating us. We are taught that memories can influence each other, that the future can impact the past, and Militello conveys this lesson with a musicality that enhances the fluidity of time.”

Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism edited by Danielle Barnhart and Iris Mahan (reviewed by Barbara Berman)
“Those of us lucky enough to count ourselves safe in this disastrous time understand, reading these poems, that our safety is thanks to those who came before us who were not safe—and that there are plenty who are not safe still. Women of Resistance recognizes this reality with fierce compassion, and a lot of really fine poetry.”

Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer (reviewed by Melissa Holbrook Pierson)
“Every memoir is to some extent a selfie: angle, expression, and background all scrupulously arranged to produce not a portrait but a self-willed image. Prior-Palmer presents her leap-first, look-later character as impetuous, often running in unattended ‘pixie mode’; she is also ‘attached to my exterior of fearlessness.’ It seems to be a very specific way of being until you realize, Wait a minute. That’s every teenager.”



Autobiography of Horse by Jenifer Sang Eun Park (reviewed by Risa Denenberg)
“The book seduces the reader with the impression of having transgressed into a private diary. I was immediately struck by how rarely a poet impresses with something so novel, so extraordinary. To call it unique is an understatement.”

Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang (reviewed by Jonathan Crowl)
“Taken as a whole, the collection features a vibrant mix of stories that offer intimate views into modern Chinese and Chinese-American life, while also holding up a mirror to American readers who might overestimate the freedoms of their own political system. As a debut, it is a striking demonstration of Wang’s versatile storytelling gifts, presenting a range of characters, perspectives, and formal choices that prove she has the tools to write a story in whatever way it needs to be written. Home Remedies is filled with characters facing boundaries to be crossed: cultural, familial, economic, political. The magic of these stories radiates from the friction created as characters enter new worlds and try, imperfectly, to make a home for themselves.”

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (reviewed by Jennifer Huang)
“To read On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is to experience a beginning again and again. It is to see the world as an open field, full of possibility. The risks Vuong takes in this work are only risks because they insist on hope, and joy, and show a path towards healing through language and imagination. This book teaches us how and where we might begin.”

Where Reasons End by Yiyun Li (reviewed by Kemi Falodun)
“The novel is a fine blend of profound pain and beauty. It asks, Why do we even write? What purpose do words serve in the face of calamity? How does one find the appropriate language for grief? Nothing adequately prepares one to say goodbye to those we love, but perhaps writing can serve as an attempt to grapple with the realities of loss. ‘I have been writing to prepare myself my entire career,’ the narrator concludes. As though the purpose of all the years of practicing the craft has only led to this road—to handle this grief.”

Tsunami vs. The Fukushima 50 by Lee Ann Roripaugh (reviewed by Jeannine Hall Gailey)
“In Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50, a book that crackles with imaginative language and mythological retellings that represent real-life disaster, Roripaugh offers the audience a new way to think about nuclear and natural disasters and the remnants and ghosts that remain in their wake. Worth a close reading just for the sonic skills displayed, this book manages to weave a larger message for the reader inside poems that are at once playful, plaintive, and foreboding.”

Pigs by Joanna Stoberock (reviewed by Jesi Buell)
“From the first page, this book reads like a holy text, heavily allegorical and laden with symbolism. The reader is keenly aware that they are being taught a lesson, even from the opening paragraphs. The prose is clear and uncomplicated, mirroring traditional religious literature and reinforcing the idea that this story is told from a child’s perspective.”

To The Wren: Collected & New Poems by Jane Mead (reviewed by Barbara Berman)
“Questions always help lead toward answers. Mead’s questions are always so very, very fine.”



Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through by T Fleischmann (reviewed by Darcy Jay Gagnon)
Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through forces us to pay attention to the things closest to us, whether it’s the relationships we have with each other or the relationships we have with art—or the ordinary miraculousness of living in a house with a door.”

Hard Damage by Aria Aber (reviewed by Marie Scarles)
“Aria Aber’s first book of poetry, Hard Damage, does not consent to the simple narrative or the soundbite. It reminds readers that every displaced person, whether refugee, immigrant, or the child of one, carries with them a parcel of stories, stories that are often suppressed and mutated by the dominant culture, or lost to reductive media coverage.”

Normal People by Sally Rooney (reviewed by Michal Zechariah)
“Rooney’s use of the term ‘normal’ does not escape this ambivalence, and she navigates it with nuance. Normal People is a novel about normal people, regular folk who sometimes want to be accepted by the world and sometimes want to escape it.”

A Frank O’Hara Notebook by Bill Berkson (reviewed by Dean Rader)
“As it happens, Berkson planned for many years to write a book about O’Hara’s impact and influence. However, Berkson himself died in 2016 before he could finish or even properly begin the project. Luckily for us, A Frank O’Hara Notebook—Berkson’s sketchbook about O’Hara—has been lovingly and masterfully reproduced and transcribed by no place press, a relatively new publisher (started in 2017 with distribution through MIT Press). For fans of Berkson and/or O’Hara, and for anyone interested in the intersection of painting and poetry, this book is indispensable.”

The Not Wives by Carley Moore (reviewed by Sandie Friedman)
“Opening with the suicide of a young woman writer, The Not Wives immediately asks: How do you keep going, in spite of being broken? And what circumstances make it impossible?”

Everything Here by Billie Swift (reviewed Emily Pérez)
“While Swift’s speaker often resembles the girl—looking out the window with curiosity—readers of this gem-like, refractive collection are also like that girl, unable to see, hold, or touch ‘everything.’ Instead we get reflections, glints and glimmers; we interpret Swift’s churning ocean through the smell of salt and wisps of spray that the speaker places with calculated ease on our wrists and fingertips.”

Mourning by Eduardo Halfon (reviewed by Dan Reiter)
“What Eduardo Halfon accomplishes in his books––the work of excavating, remembering, mourning––is crucial if we hope to avoid the mistakes of the past. But his non-traditional methods and melodies, the peculiar observances that emerge in his writing, offer the promise of something completely original: a Guatemalan, Jewish blend that is just now beginning to breathe.”

The Twenty-Ninth Year by Hala Alyan (reviewed by Anne Graue)
The Twenty-Ninth Year dares to bring uncomfortable truths to its pages, and the result is a collection that probes and plunges into memory for assurances to hold onto. In one poem, the speaker states, ‘there’s always a dark darker than the dark you know,’ and in another, ‘this world brightens with or without us.’ Each line feels like a truth Alyan has extracted from life and set in some kind of stone—either on I-35, Highway 17, or in a grain of desert sand.”



Self-Portrait In Bloom by Niloufar Talebi (reviewed by Julie Marie Wade)
“Dear Niloufar, We have never met in real life, though I feel, having just finished your Self-Portrait in Bloom, that we have met many times and in many places before. I asked myself, ‘What’s more intimate than a self-portrait? Perhaps the answer is nothing, or perhaps the answer is a letter.’”

Make It Scream, Make it Burn by Leslie Jamison (reviewed by Zakiya Harris)
“Jamison isn’t trying to convince me or you or any of her readers of anything except that perhaps this unsureness we feel toward the unknown—this uneasiness—is absolutely essential. Perhaps, when we try to tell a story that is not our own, we should be asking ourselves, What am I doing here, anyway? And perhaps this question belongs in the narrative, even if we don’t know the answer.”

If the House by Molly Spencer (reviewed by Hannah VanderHart)
“Molly Spencer’s If the House traces lines of the domestic that open the book up to being an existential-poetic ledger of the labors of women and caretakers, and the spaces we inhabit. Or, as Bachelard says of the house: ‘the space we love.’ The aim of Spencer’s poems is not to own or possess, but to inhabit, to live with the many disclosures and conversations of the house.”

Adèle by Leïla Slimani (reviewed by Lakshmi Mitra)
“A tragic figure who is starkly aware of her own nothingness, and who grapples for sexual fulfillment to temporarily pacify that nothingness, Adèle is trapped in a society that provides her glimpses of pleasure as it tortures her, that bewilders her and facilitates her role-playing, a society where she is both aggressor and victim.”

Green Target by Tina Barr (reviewed by Sarah Freligh)
“The book’s trajectory moves through the seasons, but it’s less an arc circumscribed by chronology than a series of moods and tones evoked through imagery. Barr is an astonishing image-maker, adept in creating significance through anthimeria: Following a train/truck accident, ‘cop cars beetled up and down the road’ while ‘oranges bowled all along the railroad.’ Upon lifting the lid of the compost bin in ‘Green,’ the ‘heat swells toward me,’ an image that evokes the evils unleashed from Pandora’s box as well as viscerally capturing the monstrous nature of a Southern summer. Heat is pervasive and constant in Barr’s imagery, a nod perhaps to climate change and its ongoing threat.”

Kathleen Hale Is a Crazy Stalker by Kathleen Hale (reviewed by Margot Paramenter)
“Throughout the collection, Hale speaks with an assured, accessible voice. Her writing is grounded by a self-awareness that never becomes self-serious, a characteristic manifested in recurrent asides revealing the humorous contents of her own Google searches (one disarming example: ‘mcdonalds stop make pizza 90s why’). She’s also a master of the kind of destabilizing transitions that make nonfiction read like narrative.”

Careen by Grace Shuyi Liew (reviewed by Risa Denenberg)
“In Careen, Grace Shuyi Liew displays acrobatic skill at flipping her imagery between the associative and the explicit. There are images in Careen for which I can make no associations whatsoever, paired with deeply recognizable and poignant imagery that pulls me deep inside of the speaker’s narrative. So much so, it is as if I am learning a new language with each poem. Some lines are so forceful, they snap me to attention, causing me to re-read the words, to grapple with their meaning”

Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers by Sady Doyle (reviewed by Kim Liao)
“Sady Doyle’s powerful work does more than celebrate female rage. Instead, it charts the history of how women have been depicted by American culture as victims, sluts, witches, femme fatales, shrew-like wives, and bad mothers. Doyle offers a cultural road map for the way that patriarchal forces have turned women into monsters in our cultural imagination, from figures in Greek mythology like Helen of Troy and Circe to those in popular movies like Scream and The Craft. In doing so, Doyle creates a powerful argument that the only way for women to take back their power is to shatter the monstrous versions of themselves created to constrain women at every life stage, as daughters and wives and mothers.”



Brute by Emily Skaja (reviewed by Abigail McFee)
“In rendering loss, Skaja remains firmly rooted in the first person. This first person is the self, still living, who is not buried and does not need to be elegized.”

Delayed Rays of a Star by Amanda Lee Koe (reviewed by Amelia Possanza)
“Koe deftly pans between distinct time periods and perspectives, zooming in on each woman three times throughout the narrative, always in a different order. Even without a linear through line, the novel picks you up and propels you forward as you root for each woman to succeed in chasing her dreams.”

The Tradition by Jericho Brown (reviewed by Rebecca Lehmann)
The Tradition is a book that confronts the issues of our time, including race and sexuality in America, living in a post-AIDS-crisis era, police brutality, and sexual violence and assault. Jericho Brown’s poems engage these issues with nuanced deftness, all the while confirming Brown as the formal powerhouse he has shown himself to be in his previous collections.”

The Divers’ Game by Jesse Ball (reviewed by Spencer Ruchti)
“In his latest work of fiction, The Divers’ Game, a carnivalesque novel of historical amnesia and uncanny violence, Jesse Ball names his first of several protagonists after the river of forgetfulness. Like her namesake, Lethe’s first action is to escape notice, and by the time her story ends, she is lost again.”

Soft Targets by Deborah Landau (reviewed by Elizabeth Knapp)
“Like fireweed, the poems in Soft Targets emerge from the scorched earth of contemporary life to show us not just how to survive, but how to thrive.”

Machine by Susan Steinberg (reviewed by Justin Brouckaert)
“It’s a book that demands to be read slowly, line by line, even clause by clause, like a poem. To read it any differently would be a sort of betrayal—and anyway, to skip ahead would bring you little sense of resolution, for in this novel, resolution is hardly the point.”

Feel Free by Nick Laird (reviewed by Jared Spears)
“In the unflinching look at modern selfhood, honest vulnerability gives poignancy to the poems’ tiniest moments, as when the narrating ‘I’ tenderly invokes the names Harvey and Katherine, those of Laird’s own children. If something like ‘transcendence’ is folded within these pages, it is in these moments where, fraught with doubt as the human experience is, something shines through.”

The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull (reviewed by Peter Mack)
“Turnbull shows with heartbreaking clarity that even when fundamentally different individuals are able to find an essential humanity in each other, the nature of colonialism destroys both the colonizer and the colonized.”



In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (reviewed by A. Poythress)
“She has a firm grasp on her craft; it’s evident she spent long years writing and rewriting until the book matched the exacting conditions she’d set out for it. It’s so clever that even someone who has read Machado’s author profile as many times as I have is left reeling at the revelation of ‘Dream House as Plot Twist.’ It’s a mix of memoir, fiction, and history lesson. An act of creation and, as Machado says, ‘an act of resurrection.’”

Animal by Dorothea Lasky (reviewed by Mariah Bosch)
Animal encourages its audience to move toward poetic change—if we ask our poetry to be different than what it was before, what could it be? Lasky makes suggestions, not directives. She asks, ‘What would happen if red was in everything?’ I can contemplate buying more red clothing. What could possibly happen? The invitation to wonder is open. These lectures are slid across the table to us and we, as readers, have to decide our next move.”

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (reviewed by Gina Frangello)
“I’ll admit this much: if white women read The Testaments en masse and get our acts together to resist at the polls in 2020, Atwood will have done the job she seems to have set out to do. After all, we’re the idiots who failed to vote in sufficient numbers for the most qualified Presidential candidate of our lifetime.”

Odes to Lithium by Shira Erlichman (reviewed by Stephanie Wong Ken)
“The workings of the brain and the work of fixing it are through lines in Odes to Lithium, a twisted love letter to the drug that treats her bipolar disorder. As Erlichman chronicles life with her condition, interspersed with drawings and childhood photographs, she also explores the difficulties of representing her disorder to anyone outside of her brain.”

Eat Joy edited by Natalie Eve Garrett (reviewed by Jennifer Huang)
“Together, the recipes in Eat Joy open a new language for love and suggest ways to live and resist through storytelling. These recipes also give advice, like the note in Lev Grossman’s version of General Tso Tofu: ‘Tuck in. Whoever you are, whatever you have or haven’t done, whatever your apartment looks like, you made this, and you deserve to enjoy it.’ In this way, the authors included here are a chorus of friends, helping to comfort.”

Love Dream with Television by Hannah Ensor (reviewed by Irene Cooper)
“I closed the jacket on Love Dream with Television with more and better questions than when I opened it. As Anne Carson says, ‘Not a complaint.’“

Not Into the Blossoms and Not Into the Air by Elizabeth Jacobson (reviewed by Julie Marie Wade)
“Even the title of Jacobson’s book, which appears in the penultimate poem as well, attends to the interstice between two negations—not into the blossoms and not into the air. So where, then, precisely? The stem, the trunk, the root structure? What tethers us to this earth and to our own lives when we are neither flowering anew nor floating away?“