This Close To Happy: A Reckoning with Depression by Daphne Merkin (Farrar, straus, and giroux 2017)
Reviewed by Patricia Steckler
Not glamorous, not an artistically-hued state of suffering for the more sensitive souls on earth. Not a story that can be told with the dramatic climax and victorious transcendency that characterizes heroic tales. No. Depression is unabated suffering whose victims, often blamed for self-absorption, shunned as social pariahs, writhe in silence. Daphne Merkin, the writer and literary critic, tells her depression tale in the dark memoir, This Close To Happy: A Reckoning With Depression.
Obviously, it’s a weird time to be alive. I won’t say much more about COVID-19 here, other than the fact that I am grateful to find solace in books while home-bound.
In that vein, I asked our editors and frequent contributors to send over a book or two that has made their quarantine more manageable. Some of these are old favorites, some are new finds, but all are solid picks to stave off your quarantine-fueled boredom, and maybe even provide a little hope or inspiration in moments of chaos and confusion.
Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed (Soho Teen 2020)
Reviewed by Maayan D’Antonio
17-year-old Khayyam Maquet—American, French, Indian, Muslim—is spending her August sulking around Paris. Her essay to her dream school, The Art Institute of Chicago, wasn’t received well by the committee, derailing her chances of getting in. On top of that, her maybe ex-boyfriend, Zaid, is ghosting her. Just when everything feels exceptionally crappy, and Khayyam literally steps in crap, she meets Alexander, the descendant of the famous French writer Alexander Dumas.
Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett (Knopf Books for Young Readers 2019)
Reviewed by Kelly Dasta
Full Disclosure is an intersectional young adult novel that fosters sex-positivity and works to break the stigma surrounding HIV—a prime example of how diversity and inclusion are becoming more pervasive within the YA genre. Written by New York University film student, Camryn Garrett, the novel details the story of Simone Garcia-Hampton who hopes to keep her HIV positive diagnosis under-wraps upon transferring to a new high school. However, she soon develops feelings for a charming boy named Miles, which means if she wishes to pursue a relationship with him, she’ll have to tell him about her diagnosis eventually. To make matters worse, one day she receives a note in her locker, threatening that she either tell Miles about her diagnosis, or the note-writer will tell the whole school. Her first reaction is to hide the truth, but “as she gains a deeper understanding of the prejudice and fear in her community, she begins to wonder if the only way to rise above is to face the haters head-on.”
You can find LaVonne’s review of No Visible Bruises here.
Rachel Louise Snyder is a journalist and professor of creative writing at American University. The author of No Visible Bruises—winner of the prestigious 2018 Lukas Work-in-Progress Award from the Columbia School of Journalism and Harvard’s Nieman Foundation—and Fugitive Denim: A Moving Story of People and Pants in the Borderless World of Global Trade. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The
New York Times Magazine, Slate, Salon, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the New Republic. Originally from Chicago, she currently lives in Washington, DC.
No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know about Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by Rachel Louise Snyder
Reviewed by LaVonne Roberts
Sometimes a book comes along and, long after it is absorbed, nothing is the same. Rachel Louise Snyder’s No Visible Bruises demands that we have a conversation about an insidious national epidemic—domestic violence. Ms. Snyder reports, domestic violence, or “intimate partner terrorism,” as she prefers, is “among the most difficult of subjects to report on” because it’s “vast and unwieldy, but it’s also utterly hidden.” It’s like no other crime because it’s intimate— committed by someone who’s supposed to love you in the one place you’re supposed to be safe— your home.
Hum by Natalia Hero (Metatron Press, 2018)
Reviewed by Summer A.H. Christiansen
As someone who has never really been a fan of magical realism, I will admit I was a bit skeptical when I started reading Hum by Natalia Hero. However, after a few pages, I knew I was reading something special, and my skepticism was misplaced.
Hum is a powerful story that comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement. The novella follows an unnamed young woman as she grapples with her life after being raped. Hero uses the metaphor of giving birth to a hummingbird to illustrate that the effects of trauma are constant and ever present in one’s life.
The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo (Flatiron Books, 2019)
Reviewed by Angela Gualtieri
Some stories tell of rich histories and folklore. Others enchant with forbidden romances and evil foes. Others are filled with emotional turmoil and death. And yet, some stories seem to encompass it all.
Set in 1930s Colonial Malaya (current Malaysia), Yangsze Choo’s The Night Tiger follows an eleven-year-old houseboy named Ren, tasked with fulfilling his dead master’s final wish to find his long-since detached finger. Ren only has 49 days to reunite the finger with its earthly body or his master’s soul will roam the Earth forever. Ji Lin, a young apprentice dressmaker moonlighting as a dancehall girl to pay her mother’s debts, accidentally receives one of her dance partner’s lucky charms: a mummified finger. As Ren and Ji Lin walk their destined paths unknowingly toward each other, a strange series of deaths, dreams of the in-between, and whispers of weretigers force them to fight their demons, both internal and external.
Forward: 21st Century Flash Fiction by Megan Giddings (Aforementioned Productions, 2019)
Reviewed by Nora Poole
So often, a collection or anthology sets out to represent the best writing of a given form, genre, or year: Best American This, Best Collected That. Not so in the case of Forward: 21st Century Flash Fiction (Aforementioned Productions, 2019), a collection of short short fiction by writers of color, edited by Megan Giddings.“I’m not really a person who believes in bests,” she explains in her editor’s note. “The point [of this collection] is to show off how many ways a very short story can be written[…], to show that there are many writers out there engaging with the incredible elasticity of flash fiction.”