A Year In Rumpus Book Reviews 2020


In her 2019 review of Stephanie Strickland’s How the Universe Is Made, Rumpus contributor and book reviewer Julie Marie Wade wrote:

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.

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



Only As the Day Is Long by Dorianne Laux (reviewed by Jeri Theriault)
“With such details, Laux establishes an emotional weight at the beginning of the collection equal to that of the lost-mother poems at the end. As the book continues, she traces a growing understanding of loss.”

Indelicacy by Amina Cain (reviewed by Alissa Hattman)
“To read Amina Cain is to enter tide pools of the mind. On its surface, her fiction is quiet, lovely, contained, but sit with any passage and that which seems still uncoils and comes alive.”

How to Know the Flowers by Jessica Smith (reviewed by Cynthia Arrieu-King)
“Smith shows the pollutants, the systems that confront all of us, with their never-ending processes. They make a gorgeous metaphor for the terrains and toxicity that we have to negotiate with people.”

The Unhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells and The Overstory by Richard Powers (reviewed by Harrison Hill)
“Climate change isn’t discrete acts of God, Wallace-Wells argues in this riveting jeremiad, but something so total, so all-enveloping, so unsparingly transformative as to implicate every person on the planet—even those of us who mistakenly think we’re in the clear.”

The Overstory is about a lot of things, but it’s most essentially about trees and the people who love them: an Iowa artist who photographs a majestic chestnut on the twenty-first of every month; a scientist who discovers that trees can communicate; a Vietnam vet who sets out to plant thousands of seedlings across America.”

Lima:: Limón by Natalie Scenters-Zapico (reviewed by Julie Marie Wade)
“The speaker in Scenters-Zapico’s poem speaks in the world post-2016. She labors under fewer illusions. Her doubts don’t prevent her from trying to make beauty, to cultivate hope, but her reality is different, her subject position one that is, more often than not, obscured.”

Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha (reviewed by Sean Carswell)
“Like all of Cha’s work, the novel starts with a slow burn and builds into a wildfire. By the time you get to the last hundred pages or so, there’s nothing to do but watch it burn down everything you thought you knew about Los Angeles. And, like the massive wildfires that have been burning through Southern California for the past few winters, you’re left with both devastation and the promise of new growth—with the drive to build something new and better.”

Build Yourself a Boat by Camonghne Felix (reviewed by Emily Pérez)
“There is nothing for the Trap Queen to fear except everything. Her power is stolen by others; the human beneath the façade is inevitably destroyed. A wordplay: we shift from trap music to the idea that to live within a Black, female body is itself a trap.”

No Good Very Bad Asian by Leland Cheuk (reviewed by Lillian Howan)
“Like its protagonist, No Good Very Bad Asian upends expectations, proving more complex than the rigid, confining literary categories that might seek to define it. Outrageous, satirical, tragic, comic, and hopeful, it’s a sharp-eyed saga about slaying illusions—whether imposed by external forces or self-perpetuated—as well as an ode to the demanding, fickle, and exhilarating vocation of making people laugh.”

Life in a Country Album by Nathalie Handal (reviewed by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha)
“Like Orpheus, Handal and her speaker grieve the losses of history, old and new. But her response resists stasis, and so she crafts these songs of cities, of displacements that connect her to the millions of us navigating our own exiles.”



Sleeveless by Natasha Stagg (reviewed by Philippa Snow)
Sleeveless does not offer answers, per se; what is valuable in it is its rare acknowledgement of the impossibility of modern life, the horror of having to maintain a twenty-four-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week lie.”

Here All Night by Jill McDonough, Nightshade by Andrea Cohen, and Blazons by Marilyn Hacker (reviewed by Julie R. Enszer)
“Each of these recent collections by lesbian poets, in different places of their writing careers, invite new considerations on the function of memory in lesbian poetics. All three remind readers that what is imagined is not always real and the world is not as expected. The result? Great pain, great pleasure.”

Cleanness by Garth Greenwell (reviewed by Carley Moore)
“I haven’t ever read anything like this; it’s tender and rough, slow and fast, hot and scary, and when I finished it I held it to my heart in gratitude to see kink laid bare, sex and violence made manifest for all of us to see, and in awe of what it must have taken to write it.”

Still Life with Mother and Knife by Chelsea Rathburn (reviewed by Molly Spencer)
“I’m not going to end this review in a moment of hope—the woods don’t allow for it—but I want to suggest that, with these poems and their examination of moving through the world, and a life, in a female body, almost always held in someone’s gaze, we are a little less alone in the woods. The knife is a little less lethal.”

No Time to Spare: Thinking about What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin (reviewed by Jody Keisner)
“What if, Le Guin asks us, old women don’t become invisible once their perceived beauty, sex appeal, industrial value, and fertility are gone, but, like men, are recognized as whole beings, appreciated for the experiences and knowledge they’ve accumulated, the changes they’ve been through?”

You Are No Longer in Trouble by Nicole Stellon O’Donnell (reviewed by Julie Marie Wade)
You Are No Longer in Trouble documents Nicole Stellon O’Donnell, caught in the slipstream of a new kind of trouble—existential, bureaucratic, pedagogical—still/always/perpetually “saving herself” through writing, but saving in a new way. You don’t/can’t write yourself out of vocational trouble, but it is possible, as this book epitomizes, to write your way through.”

Verge by Lidia Yuknavitch (reviewed by Josh Vigil)
“Yuknavitch’s worlds are only unorthodox in that they are scarcely written about for a mainstream audience. This crystallizes an ethos at the heart of Verge—that we’re all just human, and, again, that this could be any one of us. Our lives are discomfiting, grotesque, beautiful, pleasurable moments rolled up into one. We suffer but bounce back, because we are resilient. We aren’t forever broken. Rather, we are forever in the process of mending our cracks.”

Porn Carnival by Rachel Rabbit White (reviewed by Shy Watson)
“Porn Carnival is a work of radical politics which repudiates capitalism despite, and perhaps due to, the innate nature of desire which plagues the human condition. White offers a radical take-back of resources to those in a state of lack so they may encounter beauty, waste excess and luxury, disrespect wealth, and revel in whatever they can.”



Costalegre by Courtney Maum (reviewed by Ian MacAllen)
“With Costalegre, Maum demonstrates her adroit versatility. Her first novel, I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, is a literary romantic comedy that also happens to be dark and sad. Her second, Touch, dips into the near future to offer up a technological dystopia. With Costalegre, she has given us a dystopia from the past, more relevant and frightening today than many of us thought possible.”

Bodega by Su Hwang (reviewed by Emily Kim)
Bodega is one of the most experimental and ambitious projects that I have encountered. Hwang, like her immigrant parents who moved to an unknown land, takes a risk by experimenting with form, making innovative aesthetic choices, and writing sweeping narrative-driven poems.”

Temporary by Hilary Leichter (reviewed by Leah Gaus)
Temporary is for anyone who has collected thousands of data points for social media analytics without being invited to the debrief meeting and who doesn’t make enough money to pay half the rent on their city apartment. In the final section of the book, readers come to see the inescapability of capitalism, and that perhaps the key to steadiness is with us all along, revealing itself when we aren’t looking.”

Life of the Party by Olivia Gatwood (reviewed Michal Zechariah)
“In its main project, Life of the Party traces a genealogy of fear, but the book also illuminates the many other vents of the heart: its capacity for love and anger, and the potency of these and other feelings for shaping and describing the world. Gatwood invites us to think with our hearts and ask in earnest, how did we learn to feel this way?”

Pretty Bitches by Lizzie Skurnick and Too Much by Rachel Vorona Cote (reviewed by Sara Petersen)
“Both Pretty Bitches and Too Much underline an insidious truth about patriarchy: that as women, our demands to be seen, our demands to merely exist, are often deemed too much. Our troublesome bodies, which can offend simply by their size, their color, their shape. Our hysteria-causing internal organs, which make humanity possible but mark us as cursed. Our desires: for food, for sex, for love, for validation, for justice. The singular success of using words to stifle women is that there will always be a fresh way to deem our existence dangerous, unworthy, or unwanted. There will always be another word used against us.”

Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz (reviewed by Gillian Neimark)
“This is stunning work—painful, embodied, and glorious. This is a creation myth which won’t be denied or drowned out. This is a body we will never turn away from—awestruck-beloved-eaten-shot-killed-stampeded by animals-made of rivers and stars. The body sings, and this entire collection of songs stands as an act against colonialism.“

Every Writer Has a Thousand Faces (10th Anniversary Ed.) by David Biespel (reviewed by Wesley Sexton)
“Writing is, to some of us, serious stuff, but if genuine pleasure is not part of the writing process, it’s probably not something we’ll stick with. And sticking with it is what Biespiel wants most for his readers.”



Good Boy: My Life in Seven Dogs by Jennifer Finney Boylan (reviewed by Tucker Coombe)
Good Boy’s central tension, of course, emerges from Jimmy’s desire for intimacy—love, understanding, passion—and the way it is continually thwarted by an inability to reveal his true self. Keeping the secret takes a terrible toll, often in the form of an overwhelming anger that wells up unexpectedly.”

Beyond the Sea by Paul Lynch (reviewed by Matt Walker)
“So begins an odyssey of survival. Will they make it? This is the natural question for the reader of any lost-at-sea tale. But the psychological twists and turns within and between Bolivar and Hector—two very different men—are what drive this novel. Indeed, they are what make the reader care, with increasing emotional investment, about whether they do make it.”

Seven collections for National Poetry Month: The Blue Absolute by Aaron Shurin, All the Gay Saints by Kayleb Rae Candrilli, A Lucent Fire: New and Selected Poems by Patricia Spears Jones, Bodega by Su Hwang, Gravity Assist by Martha Silano, Like a Dark Rabbi: Modern Poetry and the Jewish Literary Tradition by Norman Finkelstein, and Firsts: 100 Years of Yale Younger Poets, edited by Carl Phillips (reviewed by Barbara Berman)
“There’s richness and history in Joudah’s compositions, and in every volume I have discussed here. Reading these books, I, too, become ready for song, which is my hope for all Rumpus readers during National Poetry Month and always.”

Females by Andrea Long Chu and My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland (reviewed by Amelia Possanza)
“The coincidence of the publication of these two deeply queer love letters to fellow artists just a few months apart, love letters that yearn to find meaning in identity, delights me. Taken separately, each book is groundbreaking in its defiance of genre and its irreverence for tradition. Together, they become a portent.”

Death Industrial Complex by Candice Wuehle (reviewed by Hannah V Warren)
“The truth of Death Industrial Complex is that it forces the reader to confront their expectations, to see beyond the surface-level normativity that seeps into our consciousness. Instead, Wuehle suggests we look at our own bodies from multiple perspectives, to take photographs and then put stories to the pictures.”

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling (reviewed by Kyle Winkler)
The Golden State is a novel so dialed into its own rhetorical structure and method of execution, so confident in its delivery, that anyone who is writing fiction today would do well to study its pacing, prose, and the way Kiesling gives no quarter to Daphne Nilsen’s sense of psychic safety—the sign of a writer willing to go well beyond the threshold needed to create moving and vulnerable fiction.”



Vantage by Taneum Bambrick (reviewed by Aria Aber)
Vantage is refreshing and necessary work, reflecting our current moment as it relates to gender and bionomical shifts. Repeatedly, the poet exposes the toxic and glimmering systems to which we are bound in our relationships to each other and to the environment.”

Dunce by Mary Ruefle (reviewed by Monica Uszerowicz)
“Better, maybe, to think less; still, the thoughts, wistful and sure, arrive. Everything is worth thinking about, so Ruefle fills all the lacunae with weight, memorializes them.”

Songs of Songs by Sylvie Baumgartel (reviewed by Kate O’Donoghue)
“In writing a poem based on the Bible, which is itself a book of stories about where humanity comes from and how we continue to survive, Sylvie Baumgartel knows that her poem is inherently about the stuff that we’re made of: culture, ideology, faith.”

Frozen Charlotte by Susan de Sola (reviewed by Maryann Corbett)
“From the endless undercurrent of biases against women and against the aged, we escape to a sunlit surface where we can. It’s a tightrope act, this balancing, even in a middle-class life, between the sunny surface and the intruding pain. It’s de Sola’s genuineness in portraying this tightrope act that is Frozen Charlotte’s chief virtue.”

Drifts by Kate Zambreno (reviewed by Sean McCoy)
“By elevating the status of the fragment, then restricting the fragment to its most minimal form—dead time, blank space: nothing—Zambreno empties her text and revels in the resultant openness: the opportunity to ruminate, to record, to connect a disparate set of influences and ephemera, in prose that provokes without need of plot.”



The Magical Language of Others by E.J. Koh (reviewed by Bessie Taliaferro)
“The memoir is remarkable for its breadth—spanning four generations—as well as its brevity (it’s just over two hundred pages). Koh, a true poet, is noticeably mindful of her every word.”

Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener (reviewed by Jefferson Lee)
“Wiener offers us more than eloquent masochism. Uncanny Valley also provides precise depiction of cultural moments and movements in Silicon Valley: discrimination scandals, the obsession with optimization, data privacy concerns, the increased focus (if not clarity) on the question of content moderation. Wiener has a knack for perceiving abstract, structural issues and conveying them in specific and concrete language.”

A Nail the Evening Hangs On by Monica Sok (reviewed by Phuong T. Vuong)
“These moments provoke fear in the reader, not only by imagining waterboarding, but in asking us to consider what it might be like if our young nephew was a spy, an agent of the regime? And what if we never release those fears, even decades later? Distrust and paranoia can live on in the body as trauma. Throughout A Nail the Evening Hangs On, Sok points readers to how these practiced sentiments haunt generations of Cambodians and Cambodians in diaspora today.”

Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo (reviewed by Juan Luis Guzmán)
“Perhaps one of the deepest effects of this book is the chilling way the border itself lingers throughout its pages. Children of the Land shows how our southern border, both the physical thing itself and what it represents to millions of people, encroaches on so many aspects of a person’s life.“

The Tiniest Muzzle Sings Songs of Freedom by Magdalena Zurawski (reviewed by Kylie Gellatly)
The Tiniest Muzzle Sings Songs of Freedom is an ongoing battle between the liberation of poetry and the captivity of language, examining how the aim for such freedom can drop you into the trenches of the language that keeps us prisoner.”

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu (reviewed by Jessica Fu)
“Getting cast as Kung Fu Guy was never the challenge Willis made it out to be. What actually eludes him—and his family, friends, and neighbors who populate Interior Chinatown—is real, emotional freedom. It’s hard to imagine what exactly that looks like, especially while trying to endure the constant winds of dehumanization; it’s hard to imagine an alternative reality when you’re trying to simply survive in this one.”

Code by Charlotte Pence (reviewed by Edward Derby)
“The almost-documentary, matter-of-fact approach of sharing a friend’s poems began summoning my own grief, and elided into the realm of poetry that is interested in the universal and the transpersonal.”



Me & Other Writings by Marguerite Duras (reviewed by Sarah Haas)
“Every essay in Me & Other Writing exists simultaneously as an honest account and as a dystopian portrait, life inextricable from the ineffable pain of distance: between self and nature, self and God, self and self, self and other.”

Subduction by Kristen Millares Young (reviewed by Kristina Tate)
Subduction is about what happens when things are torn, when stories are stolen, people are broken, and how things do—or don’t—get cobbled back together after such devastating loss. Whether it be personal betrayal or cultural, Young tells a tale about surviving the worst. What happens after is left for the reader to ponder.”

Boat Burned by Kelly Grace Thomas (reviewed by M Jaime Zuckerman)
“During the endlessly stormy first month of the pandemic, when I took countless bubble baths to feel soothed, Thomas’s collection made me think also of the hope that comes from rage, from a rejection of the status quo. As COVID-19 highlights and heightens existing inequalities, and protests in support of Black lives spread across the country, I feel hope in our collective anger. Boat Burned urges us to get out of the water and let our rage become a storm.“

Sleepovers by Ashleigh Bryant Phillips (reviewed by Alison Van Houten)
“It’s tempting to dwell on the cosmos, luminously rendered amid the horrors that litter these pages. But it’s the shadowy particulars—the violations, the infidelity, the ghosts—that we should linger on. If avoidance causes trauma to fester, then a necessary first step in processing and ultimately moving on from negative experiences is to address them head on; sharing one’s whole story, bad parts and all, can be a cathartic bridging of those ’strange skips and gaps.’“

Girl by Veronica Golos (reviewed by Devon Balwit)
“The reader feels that just the sparest glimpses of these men are allowed and only in defense of the (self-)destructive mothers. If these women have fallen into addiction and madness, Golos suggests, they have good reason.”

The Heart Is a Full-Wild Beast by John L’Heureux (reviewed by CJ Green)
“Life is nothing if not fragile. L’Heureux, who opted for physician-assisted suicide as a result of degenerative Parkinson’s, knew this. His fiction impels us to accept the vulnerability of the body, and his wry humor about it almost makes it worse. Even so, that beat of faith persists, if faintly, in characters wanting to believe and those who do believe.”

Obit by Victoria Chang (reviewed by Kion You)
“For Chang, small blocks of prose tucked into a slim volume is all that remains: piecemeal memories of touching her mother’s hand, of feeding her Taco Bell, of changing out her soiled clothes, and of visiting her mother’s grave with her own children. With her father, who remains physically present but is lost to dementia, Chang calls back to similar memories, mundane but sacred: her father erecting a slipshod basketball net, or putting on his pants backward in a fitting room.”

The Equivalents by Maggie Doherty (reviewed by Apoorva Tadepalli)
“If The Equivalents is to be read prescriptively, its most important takeaway might be a sense of empathy with these women, and all of the women, in any place or moment in history, who every now and then manages to squirm out from under the gaze of a man and find the day’s freedom and happiness not by loudly proclaiming her intentions but simply by eating her vegetables and reading a book.”

Fruit by Bruce Snider (reviewed by David Meischen)
“Moments such as these acknowledge mortality, but they do not weigh the poems down. From the opening lines, celebrating human kinship with a grand creature of flesh and blood, I hear a voice claiming himself.“



The Survivors by Adam P. Frankel (reviewed by Diane Gottlieb)
“There is much to relate to in The Survivors for many of us. For others who have not personally experienced intergenerational trauma, the book provides a moving look inside a troubled but loving family and demonstrates the possibility of healing, of breaking a cycle.”

Renaissance Normcore by Adéle Barclay (reviewed by Jessica Fu)
“In Renaissance Normcore, Barclay creates the mythic space for this exact kind of communion. It’s a fantastic place she builds, tucked between the folds of imagination, deep under the surface of the ocean, in a world whose bounds she’s reimagined to contain her own.”

A History of My Brief Body by Billy-Ray Belcourt (reviewed by Cody Lee)
“I don’t think Belcourt presumes to know exactly how to remake the world, nor do I think that’s what he’s trying to prove. I do, however, think he’s presenting us with everything he is conscious of: the Indian residential schools, the medical field’s apathy toward STIs, how terribly frightening the police are, the suicide rate among NDNs; Belcourt’s taking all of this stuff and presenting it as a poetic smorgasbord, full of love and joy, so that if one aspect doesn’t resonate with you, another will. Above all, he knows there’s something wrong, and he’s warning those he cares most about, meaning us.”

Lay Studies by Steven Toussaint (reviewed by Michael Angel Martin)
“By juxtaposing the language of liturgy with the language of contemporary life, Toussaint paradoxically exposes our disenchanted culture’s underlying penchant for enchantment.“

Memory by Bernadette Mayer (reviewed by Natalie Dunn)
“In a modern culture obsessed with self-documentation and with putting our best, most photogenic moments on display, Mayer’s attempt to show everyday life as it is—out of focus, strange, and repetitive—feels fresh.”

All Its Charms by Keetje Kuipers (reviewed by Risa Denenberg)
“In All Its Charms, Keetje Kuipers reveals an intimate tale of family with potent imagery and heft—somewhat like the way an anchor marks a place while it pulls you down into murky waters. From the beginning there is a clear warning to proceed with a sense of awe, which at times is equivalent to a sense of horror.”

This Is Pleasure by Mary Gaitskill (reviewed by Alicia Ezekiel-Pipkin)
“In This Is Pleasure, Gaitskill presents a complicated situation, and asks readers not to read through an ideological lens but instead through an empathetic and compassionate one.”

Heaven Is All Goodbyes by Tongo Eisen-Martin (reviewed by Mandana Chaffa)
“If the dualities of existence—resistance and surrender, despair and joy, life and death—were sound and motion, they’d resemble a Tongo Eisen-Martin creation like Heaven Is All Goodbyes. He is a linguistic medium, channeling voices from beyond the traditional poetic veil, demanding that we pay attention: to our words, to our world, to ourselves, to each other.”



Sansei and Sensibility by Karen Tei Yamashita (reviewed by Ariel Djanikian)
“Yamashita’s stories—ironic, wry, playful, with bright, shimmering surfaces and undercurrents strong and political—deserve the same compliment. Historical affliction is on every page of Sansei and Sensibility. But her moves are never rigid or simple, and the dance is one you want to join.”

The All-Night Sun by Diane Zinna (reviewed by Holly M. Wendt)
“Diane Zinna’s The All-Night Sun holds, at its heart, illumination: what is shown, what is held in the light, which is also to say that what is hidden, what is kept in shadow, is also necessarily part of its project. The All-Night Sun does not disappoint; the interplay between the secrets the characters keep and their moments of revelatory intimacy create a striking chiaroscuro effect that is as much about the power of storytelling—its power to deceive and transgress as much as to soothe and heal—as it is about what and how we grieve.”

Neck of the Woods by Amy Woolard (reviewed by Irene Cooper)
“In Neck of the Woods, Amy Woolard’s debut collection of poems, the poet picks up the reader in the tight cone of the allegorical Kansas tornado and drops them, hard and repeatedly, not into Oz but into plots of memory, cracked and refractile, into a house built from a broken mirror.”

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry (reviewed by Andrew McKernan)
“But this is We Ride Upon Sticks: someone’s perm falls out, someone becomes prom queen. Someone has a meet-cute at an underage drinking party with a boy who is captain of the swim team. It’s all homage, and the stereotypes and the voice are part of that. It is a wonderful tribute to high school sports, and to the ‘80s youth culture obsession that has never wholly left us, however you want to slice that ‘we.‘ And it just might cast a spell on you, too.”

I Live in the Country & Other Dirty Poems by Arielle Greenberg (reviewed by Joseph Goosey)
“Judgment masked in concern for another’s well-being is something that Greenberg does not suffer passively. She calls it out, addresses it directly, and moves the hell along with her own business in a way that makes me wish that someone had handed me a copy of I Live in the Country when I was sixteen or seventeen years old.”

This America by Jill Lepore (reviewed by Robert Rosenberger)
“If the negative claim of the book is that we should reject nationalism, then the positive argument is that we can draw a liberal account of America from the historical strands of resistance to oppression and bigotry. This positive argument is necessarily messier, as it pulls together a variety of threads, and includes by necessity a critical and honest recognition of the cruelties and inequalities of the country’s past and present.”

Space Struck by Paige Lewis (reviewed by Julie Marie Wade)
“Paige Lewis’s debut collection Space Struck does all of these things. It pulses with light and shimmers with hope. It also expands our sense of what a poem can do/how a poem can move and the many ways a poem can occupy as well as transform a page.”

Notes from an Apocalypse by Mark O’Connell (reviewed by Sara Krolewski)
“This is a prophecy that the pandemic has proved. It is only in caring for each other, and sacrificing for the collective, that we’ll be able to limit the spread of this terrifying disease. Meanwhile, the billionaires, with their decked-out panic rooms, designed to defend their own hegemony? Peter Thiel, the pro-Trump venture capitalist whose New Zealand estate O’Connell briefly visits, wasn’t even able to put his escape pad to use when COVID-19 hit the US in March: no bunker has yet been built on the land. It’s an irony that suggests the limits of wealth and power. The apocalypse will come for us all, but as O’Connell suggests, it’s solidarity—not strident, uncaring individualism—that will help us to weather the storm.”



Living Weapon by Rowan Ricardo Phillips (reviewed by Andre Bagoo)
“It turns out, then, that we must hold on to the hope of a narrative of progress if we are to change. At the same time, we should acknowledge the slow pace of transformation, the unsteady give and take of competing forces. What is a real cause for concern, however, is the notion of walls, the notion that the conversation has come to an end.”

Descent by Lauren Russell (reviewed by Jesi Buell)
“In attempting to understand a life from different angles, Descent presents the reader with uncomfortable juxtapositions. How can we both revile Bob and still relate to him? His sadnesses and his violences, his beliefs and his histories, his trauma and the trauma he inflicted on others, are each two sides of the same coin. Can we ever understand Peggy outside of Bob’s perspective? Can we look at Bob and Peggy and see any love? Can we understand ourselves completely separated from our family or our histories?”

Birthright by George Abraham (reviewed by J. David)
Birthright is not an impositional text; it instead unpacks its messages before repacking and repeating them. It is discursive and fractal, hopeful and mourning, composed and furious, purposed and meandering, explicitly condemnatory and subversively illuminating; it occupies many arenas simultaneously. And, it leads me to think now of the limits we place on language and the composition of ideas.”

Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn (reviewed by Keishel Williams)
“Patsy’s character is a flawed woman, well-presented on the pages of this novel. Dennis-Benn pens a beautiful narrative that encapsulates the converging joy and pain of many Caribbean immigrants in search of a better life. Her work sheds light on the realities of chasing the elusive American dream that many Caribbean people still hold today. Patsy will be part of the literary canon that opens the window to a multifaceted Caribbean life.”

The Inheritance of Haunting by Heidi Andrea Restrepo (reviewed by E. M. Franceschini)
“Such is the verse that consistently characterizes the poems throughout the book, the cumulative effect of which is to inculcate the reader into a trance that is not mystical or transcendental inasmuch as ethico-political and thoroughly tethered to the unjust dead.”

Index Cards by Moyra Davey (reviewed by Tess Michaelson)
“Davey’s unaffected and plain style adds to this sense of the collection’s lucidity. Her language is stunning in its directness, its lack of artifice. It is immediate and intimate, as if Davey has miraculously collapsed the wall between thinking and writing. And yet there is a mournfulness to her gaze, a patience and humility that evokes Sontag’s idea of the author as having little left to lose.”

The High Shelf by Nadia Colburn (reviewed by Kasey Jueds)
“But The High Shelf is not only a book of trauma. It encompasses, equally, joy and plenitude, particularly in its poems of motherhood, and suggests that it’s in opening ourselves to our experience, even to our suffering, that we find freedom.”

Ghost/Home by James Sweeney (reviewed by Kelly Weber)
Ghost/Home offers us a necessarily incomplete instruction manual for doing precisely that. This is the kind of the work an essay can do, and it’s an exciting ethos of Sweeney’s writing. Read it and make space for the way ’fright rearranges itself,’ for the way our understanding continues to undo itself.”

Three books of poetry: Every Day We Get More Illegal by Juan Felipe Herrera, Storage Unit for the Spirit House by Maw Shein Win, and The Park by John Freeman (reviewed by Barbara Berman)
“The three books I will discuss in this review were written before the COVID-19 pandemic became further proof that our days are devastating. These authors craft poetry that says: Yes, we will examine our histories and our surroundings with rigorous art, and they do this in original ways that display the great range of contemporary American poetry.”



Nightingale by Paisley Rekdal (reviewed by Gregory Emilio)
“Reading through Nightingale, one is struck by Rekdal’s marriage of the past with the present, her fusion of more old-school modes with contemporary, forward-thinking poetics. Figures from antiquity—those masks of learned, privileged poets—are rendered utterly contemporary, down to earth. Myth is not ornament here, but a means of understanding how ancient practices of disempowerment, subjugation, and rape, have traveled across time (and pages) to our modern moment.”

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan (reviewed by C.M. Mesquita)
“Dolan’s greatest strength is her ability to capture the loneliness and perplexity of living as an expatriate. Reading Exciting Times, I frequently experienced flashes of my own recent stint teaching English in Europe, a period where I often observed my own understanding of my ethnic and linguistic identity thrown into question. Despite the differences in our backgrounds—Ava a white Irishwoman and myself an Asian American Latina—I frequently saw my own story teaching English abroad replicated on the page.”

Homie by Danez Smith (reviewed by Mandana Chaffa)
“The relationships in Homie are relationships that are honest, complicated, supportive, and unforgettable, honoring the ones who’ve been lost. In this fraught world—which has become even more dangerous as this essay has been written—it is our homies who will help us survive. Smith’s poems are fierce love letters to them, and in the heady pleasure of reading them, to us.”

Of Color by Jaswinder Bolina (reviewed by Sarah Haas)
“By succumbing to the silent withdrawal of a comma, by becoming a breath, Bolina yields to the liminal and slips through the bars of his cage. Maybe it’s because Bolina’s humility has proved so difficult to conjure in my own life that I see it so clearly here, why I’m marveling, as if watching a magician at work. Bolina waves a comma like a wand and the positive space recedes, the negative space rises to the surface, the play of words proffering a sense of relief.”

Deed by Justin Wymer (reviewed by Keegan Lester)
“While Wymer’s high lyric and high syntax are set against familiar Appalachian backdrops, including mountaintop removal, addiction, the woods as a venue for the spiritual, cleansing, and danger, and while he can probably name every flower and animal in Appalachia, what makes this work different from others is how he writes of beauty and epiphany as not a source leading to answers instead as a source leading toward more interrogation.”

A Burning by Megha Majumdar (reviewed by Karishma Jabonputra)
“Ultimately, Majumdar’s debut is a piercing series of questions concerning the life we are born into and the situations beyond our control. A haunting portrait of a country and city steeped in nationalism, A Burning splits open society and presents it, three ways, for our consideration.”

Moroccan Holiday by Lauren Tivey (reviewed by Patrick Armstrong)
“Tivey is a fearless poet, and it is the candid and contradictory thoughts and images she offers us in Moroccan Holiday that make the book engrossing and unforgettable. It is her work’s honesty and intimacy, as much as its imagery and musicality, that make the reader want to walk beside her on this dark and lustrous journey.”

Anthropica by David Hollander (reviewed by Hugh Sheehy)
“It is appropriate that the novel makes use of different genres and styles. What’s most impressive about the genre mashup is the ease with which Hollander shifts from science fiction to realism to pseudo-journalism to satire and comic storytelling to Joycean stream-of-consciousness.”



Sitting Pretty by Rebekah Taussig (reviewed by Hannah Soyer)
Sitting Pretty is not a road map—it does not spell out signposts to follow, instructions on how to do this or be that. At the same time, however, this book is a road map, in that it shows moments of resonance, moments where I, a fellow disabled writer, could see myself reflected in the words on the page. Taussig has created her own road map, while being aware that her road map shows only one of many diverging and converging paths.”

Field Music by Alexandria Hall (reviewed by Kylie Gellatly)
“The pages of Alexandria Hall’s debut collection, Field Music, are liquid. The book itself is a fluid body—one brimming, seeping, pouring, spilling, and filling a reality built on the perception and impermanence of the senses.”

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha (reviewed by Christine Ma-Kellams)
“But more than a novel, If I Had Your Face is a protest against the cultural pressures women like her heroines (and men like her anti-heroes) have eaten up their whole lives. In that sense, Cha’s fiction does more than just represent the specific, modern cultural milieu of South Korea today in all its dazzling, devastating glory; it implores us to look at ourselves and our desires and choices more severely.”

Fractures by Carlos Andrés Gómez (reviewed by Joumana Altallal)
“In our contemporary American moment—marked by the continuation of centuries of racial violence—Fractures is the ’single ray / [which] unfolds its warmth’ along the contours of our grief. Carlos Andrés Gómez achieves in the work of his poems both tenderness and power, peeling away language to make room for the layers of loss, ruin, and birth underneath.”

Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith (reviewed by Lily Arnell)
“The range of human experience captured in Year of the Monkey honors the nuance, complexity, and the often paradoxical nature of being a person on earth. To put it simply, Patti cares.”

Home: New Arabic Poems (reviewed by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha)
Home: New Arabic Poems is an impressive gathering of voices across generations, poetics, and homes of origin. Each section in the anthology is an invitation to encounter, with as few barriers as possible, the work of nine celebrated Arabic-language poets whose work shapes the modern literary landscape of their homelands. These poems illuminate the familiar spaces of contemporary life. In doing so, they expand our understanding of the homes and worlds we inhabit.”

Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee (reviewed by Sangamithra Iyer)
“Through her luminous narrative, Lee provides an intimate history of an island, using all the languages available to her: English, Mandarin, Taiwanese, German, and those of an environmental historian.”

Tomboyland by Melissa Faliveno (reviewed by Melinda Copp)
“Faliveno’s collection does not shy away from difficult and dark moments in her past. On the more controversial topics where a lesser writer might veer toward defending their own position, Faliveno addresses this tendency and skirts it by bravely building her arguments and letting the reader in. Her writing is honest and generous.”