It’s hard to believe I’m writing this as the schedule changes from September to October. The year is three quarters over. Despite the vivid memories of this year of receiving the vaccine and seeing loved ones after a year or more apart, the defining factor of 2021 has been its relationship to 2020. “Last year” always seems to have to be 2019, but soon 2021 will have this title. Maybe the fragmented nature of the past two years is why I’m drawn to poetry and verse novels for this season’s guide to the arts – books that capture the enormity of feelings in an economy of l ‘space. But if you’re into thrillers, essays, or light romance, there’s something here for you too. Nothing immerses you in the fall spirit of New England like a New Englishman’s book.
By Antonio de Jesús López
Palo Alto is the poster child of gentrification with Silicon Valley eclipsing Antonio de Jesús López’s hometown. López’s effervescent poetry straddles the tension of the code that swings between these two places. An alum of the Vermont Studio Center Arts and Writing residency program, this collection examines the tough feelings of higher education when institutions support scholarship students as the exceptions, not the rule. López wants to challenge this hypothesis. His poetry struggles between the fire of right-wing fanatics who mock “you have to learn English to be successful in this country” and the frying pan of white liberals who want to symbolize it.
By Daniel Kraus, illustrated by Chris Shehan
Watch out for leaf peepers: the fall depicted in this graphic novel makes New Hampshire much more sinister. Kat Somerville returns to her hometown of Comfort Notch for the funeral of her estranged mother, 25 years after her mother fired Kat, 9. But when her new neighbor suddenly dies, it’s not just Kat’s past that haunts her, and she must uncover the city’s dark secret or her own young daughter could be in danger. This story and its spooky and evocative illustrations will send chills down your spine in the best possible way.
Emmy Harlow has very good reason not to visit her magical hometown for over a decade. But when a once-in-a-generation tournament takes place to determine which Thistle Grove family has the most powerful magic, Emmy reluctantly returns. His quiet plans quickly turn into revenge against the man who was dubbing his best friend and another woman – a mysterious, beautiful, and evil witch in her own right. In her first adult novel, Lana Harper concocts a spooky romantic comedy that would be the perfect read for Halloween or Valentine’s Day. Harper is a graduate of Yale, Boston University and Emerson College.
Syd is cooking up a heartache … literally. Fresh out of a breakup, Syd channels difficult emotions through the catharsis of pastry. Only now, after eating Syd’s baked goods, everyone around Syd seems to be breaking up too. Turns out that Syd’s brownies might just have been just one little a bit magical. Can Syd concoct a cure for the grief? This sweet queer romance will charm you, magical brownies or not. AR Capetta teaches in a Masters of Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
What if the apocalypse succeeds? There was no film script ending for humanity in this novel by Brissett, who grew up in Cambridge. The aliens destroyed Earth and the survivors were forced to escape to a new planet. Brissett masterfully weaves years (and light years) through a tale of Hades and Persephone filled with the devastating impacts of war and kidnapping, the power dynamics between people and aliens, and the psychic powers that could save them – or destroy them – all, once again.
Weeds are everywhere and out of place in the eye of the beholder. What does it mean when weeds bloom where they are not wanted? This poetic memoir uses beautiful images to describe his childhood in Rhode Island as the son of a Uruguayan immigrant. Wilkinson portrays his restless uncertainty about his fatherhood, his family’s immigration status, and his queer identity. But Wilkinson (now a horticulturalist) triumphs when he manages to take root.
Theft is a carefully crafted career plan for Rick and Frank, who follow routine break-ins on instructions from a secret boss. A job requires them to steal a seemingly worthless item … that is, until the couple have a sudden car accident and Frank disappears with the stolen trophy. Rick must now question the value of the lost item, his relationship with Frank, and the past events that led his life to this time. An unreliable narrator makes this thriller all the more gripping. Gregory Galloway lives in Connecticut.
In a gripping novel written in verse, Melissa Lozada-Oliva (both author and protagonist) brings pop star Selena back from the dead. Celebrity cult idealization quickly turns sour as Selena’s resurrected life and career quickly overshadows Lozada-Oliva’s character hopes for her own career and love. While playing with images that are both macabre and absurd, former Boston resident Lozada-Oliva strikes a chord about navigating the world and belonging.
This collection of essays explores the darkness from 2016 to 2019 as a black man in America through the prism of art, literature, travel and politics. Like black carbon paper that “carries meaning” to the highest paper, Cole elevates his commentary through the use of various artistic mediums – the role of shadow in photography, the meaning of the color black in visual arts, the place of literature in activism. He zooms in on his personal experiences, broadens the frame to talk about his family, and widens the scope through history to relate to that precise moment in time. Both deeply personal and universal, Cole’s collection explores what it means to be a human and an artist in tumultuous times. Teju Cole is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Harvard.
It’s one thing to wonder what people will say about you at your funeral; it’s another to stage your death to find out. Eccentric billionaire Dava Shastri has terminal brain cancer … Instead, the press is getting their hands on two devastating secrets she hid from her children, and now the whole world knows it. Now Shastri has time to redeem herself … but will she? Kirthana Ramisetti received her MA in Creative Writing from Emerson College.