March is the month I was dreading most this year. For me, as for many of you, it marked a year of lockdown, which I absolutely did not want to acknowledge. It was a month that included tragedy and disappointment, chaos and surreality. Some of my most beloved friends have been hurting in ways that make me long to be near them; others have been succeeding in ways that fill up my heart; some of you are enduring both at once.
All the trees in the orchard are in bloom and the arugula has bolted and gone to seed. The strawberries are making stubborn little fruits. A pair of ring-neck doves seem to be nesting in a secret place in the backyard. That's how we'll go into April: determined to keep on growing.
I only read 11 books in February, not including Savage Legion by Matt Wallace, which some of you have been reading along with me! I usually like to go a little harder than that, but the migration from Substack to Ghost ate up a week in there, so it was a lighter month. Still, it was a great month of books for me. Here are the three that caught me the most:
by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
It seems impossible that any of this happened.
When Becca starts at a posh new high school, she never expects to be noticed by the most popular girls. She never expects them to invite her into their pack. But they do. They show her how to dress and how to act and what parties to go to. And then, one night under the full moon, they let her in on their secret: They’re werewolves.
This is when a normal person would run screaming. But Becca doesn’t run. She doesn’t scream. She doesn’t want to escape. She wants to belong. And now she does. She is all new. It is perfect.
For a little while anyway.
Until Thatcher dies.
And then things get complicated.
Tokuda-Hall's debut novel, The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea was a sharp, intricate, high-fantasy story of connection and colonialism. Squad, Tokuda-Hall's debut graphic novel, couldn't be more different in content – it's contemporary with a tight focus and an absolutely wicked sense of humor – but it's got precisely the same level of depth, complexity, and impact as her novel-length work. Reading this was fun as hell (teen girl werewolves eating boys, how can you go wrong). Reading this also peeled away layer after layer of my own certainty, my willingness to accept or reject violence, and my ability to justify any number of things in the name of community. It comes out in October and is a truly vital preorder. Brutal, tender, insightful.
by Kristin Hannah
Everything on the Martinelli farm is dying, including Elsa's tenuous marriage; each day is a desperate battle against nature and a fight to keep her children alive.In this uncertain and perilous time, Elsa--like so many of her neighbors--must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or leave it behind and go west, to California, in search of a better life for her family.
The Four Winds is a rich, sweeping novel that stunningly brings to life the Great Depression and the people who lived through it--the harsh realities that divided us as a nation and the enduring battle between the haves and the have-nots. A testament to hope, resilience, and the strength of the human spirit to survive adversity, The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.
Anyone who has spent more than a few hours in my company has had to listen to me talking about the dust bowl. I've always been deeply interested in this moment in American history – I'm fascinated by manmade ecological collapse – but my interest has been embarrassingly abstract until now, removed from the very real human experience of those involved. This book does the brilliant work of decentering a popular narrative of dust bowl stoicism and inevitability, highlighting instead the sense of fear and hopelessness that comes with living through a moment of profound and ongoing natural disaster. The book also focuses on the battle for rights for migrant workers – a battle that is violent, passionate, and relevant in ways I wish weren't ongoing. I was captivated by the humanity and compassion woven throughout the narrative. Heartfelt, unflinching, trenchant.
by Rose Szabo
Eleanor Zarrin has been estranged from her wild family for years. When she flees boarding school after a horrifying incident, she goes to the only place she thinks is safe: the home she left behind. But when she gets there, she struggles to fit in with her monstrous relatives, who prowl the woods around the family estate and read fortunes in the guts of birds.
Eleanor finds herself desperately trying to hold the family together — in order to save them all, Eleanor must learn to embrace her family of monsters and tame the darkness inside her.
At no point during this book did I feel like I was on solid footing – not until the very last page, when I finally understood just how many different layers of story Szabo was bringing to the table. But even when I wasn't sure where things was headed, I was simply enthralled. The journey Eleanor Zarrin takes is a familiar and impossible one – a journey to understanding the difference between comfort and kindness, of recognizing cruelty even when it's in disguise, and of learning how to navigate the way power can change a person into someone they never thought they'd be. Lovely, labyrinthine, challenging.
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In the meantime, care for yourself and the people around you. Believe that the world can be better than it is now. Never give up.