Welcome to 2015! A new year means 365 days’ worth of opportunities to read great books written by people who are not dead straight white dudes. If you’re looking for a place to start, here are a few of the best reads that crossed Girls Like Giants writers’ desks, nightstands and Kindles last year. Be sure to check back next week for even more recommendations.
The Vacationers by Emma Straub
The Vacationers is the first novel I read after finishing graduate school and moving across the country. It is the novel that saw me through a tough time where everything was stretched too thin and chaos and uncertainty ruled the day. Reading The Vacationers is particularly pleasurable when everyone you know is on luxurious vacations, yet you can’t afford a pedicure. Readers are quickly acquainted with a family whose operational dynamics are complicated yet intimately familiar. The heady intimacy I developed with the characters was the most pleasurable part of the novel. A close second was the sensory experience Straub offers to those for whom Mallorca is but a fantasy. This novel, better than any of the other vacation-themed novels I read in desperation this past summer (to compensate for my lack of a holiday), captures the warm, damp weight of exhaustion that follows excesses of sun, sand, and wine. This, combined with Straub’s wit and refusal to shortchange any of her characters, makes the story a keeper for me. – Chelsea B.
Two years ago, when her reboot of Marvel’s spacefaring superhero title Captain Marvel was launched, barely anyone had heard of Kelly Sue DeConnick. It’s safe to say that 2014 belonged to her. KSD’s Carol Danvers, the game protagonist of Marvel, dropped the thigh-high boots and the “Ms.”, started going by “Captain,” traveled back in time to retcon herself a more feminist origin story, and joined up with the Guardians of the Galaxy (in the comics). Not to mention the recent announcement that DeConnick’s definitive run has inspired what will be the big M’s first female-led superhero film. 2014 also saw the completion of the first arc of DeConnick’s first creator-owned series—the surreal, supernatural western Pretty Deadly—and the beginning of her second, Bitch Planet. The last is a feminist reworking of 1970’s women-in-prison exploitation films: here, ‘noncompliant’ (NC) women are sent to a remote space station where their jailer—a giant, pink whore/nun hologram called The Catholic—attempts to rehabilitate them into normative femininity. Needless to say, our inmates are not going down without a fight. Bitch Planet is biting and timely and smart, playing out a little like Orange is the New Black meets But I’m a Cheerleader meets Django Unchained. (In space.) – Brian Psi
Lucky Us by Amy Bloom
This novel took me a while. The winding, uneven story of two sisters (sort of) and their misadventures was not immediately engaging. However, as the leading ladies accumulate birthdays, friends, and travels, I became hooked. Bloom’s story is a pursuit of questions like, What is a family? How do we know? And what difference does it make anyhow? Lucky Us offers a portrait-in-progress of women forging through good times and bad (mostly bad) and the families they make along the way. The novel bears witness to fortitude, vision, and generosity. Bloom writes an unhurried, measured journey without much splash or vigor, save the satisfaction found in the quotidian interactions of making a home, a family, and a life. – Chelsea B.
Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson
Kamala Khan is the hero we need now. When the previous Ms. Marvel promoted herself to captain, her title was claimed by a fan-fiction writing Avengers fangirl—a sixteen-year-old Pakistani-American Muslim girl from Jersey City—after gas from a terrigen bomb bestows super-stretchy powers upon her. Wilson’s clearly plugged into the teen and Tumblr dimensions of female-focused geek culture, and her scenarios metaphorize the teenage experience like nothing else since Buffy: Kamala bends and reaches and weaves (and sometimes shrinks, retreating to fight another day) as she struggles to navigate friends, family, faith, body image, and high school—all while trying to establish herself as the defender of the west bank of the Hudson. Her journey is presented to us in a voice which feels fresh and authentic and necessary, while always remaining infinitely relatable. Considered something of a risk, the first issue of the series was an enormous hit, and for good reason: Ms. Marvel is a perfect comic book, and thankfully sharable with the preteen set. – Brian Psi
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
I came to Bad Feminist already a fan of Gay’s from her widely hailed internet writings, where I learned to recognize her voice before I even knew who she was. Because of Gay’s longstanding fan base, widespread internet presence, and immense talent, I feel inadequate to give her voice and contributions in Bad Feminist their due. To get over it, I’ll take this down to the micro level and keep it brief. Gay helped me understand intellectual, thoughtful women who love pink and Sweet Valley High. She gave me language to express my discontent with feminism while also assuring me that I can claim it as long as it’s useful. Gay’s casual style can belie the depth of the essays in this volume, but I’m calling her on what I see as a stylistic bluff. I occasionally felt she was playing a little too nicely with others, but Bad Feminist is an important contribution to contemporary conversations about feminism in theory and practice. – Chelsea B.