April is a month of books outside my usual reading habits and a fairly eclectic list of favourites. A fairy tale Western, a ghost story about racial appropriation, a bittersweet musical memoir, a sequel to a prize-winner, a YA STEM contemporary and a book is set to be a defining one of the YA genre. So if you’re after a new read, here are my highlights of books being published this month. I’ll also have a video version of this list up soon on my YouTube channel which you can subscribe to here.
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Walker) There’s a reason that everyone is talking about this book. I’m wary of ever describing a book as “important” – but what books are for is a whole separate topic for another time. I feel as though much of the coverage has been focused, for good reason, on the inspiration from the Black Lives Matter movement and the more searing, confronting elements of the book. This is all absolutely true, and a huge part of why you should read the book *but* I do think that sometimes the warmth and humour of the book has been missed from the reviews. Starr is a brilliant heroine, full of wit and heart, and there’s plenty about growing up and falling in love for the first time alongside the politics. And the way both these elements fit together so beautifully is what elevates the book to something truly special. It’s classic YA in so many ways, but also a searing, though-provoking read. I really think this will be looked back at as a defining YA book of this generation of writers.
2. White Tears by Hari Kunzru (Hamish Hamilton) I wasn’t sure whether to include this on the list as the recommendation definitely comes with a caveat. I didn’t love this *but* I thought it was fascinating, and different, and really made me think. So if you’re the kind of reader that enjoys literary experiments, and appreciate craft and ambition even if not everything lands, then this is one for you. I loved the first half of this, but had some frustrations as it went on, particularly with the ending. It’s a trippy, dark ghost story about blues music and racial appropriation and a really unique read. I’d love to know what you made of it if you’ve read it.
3. The Blood Miracles by Lisa McInerney (John Murray) I don’t tend to spotlight sequels too often as I’d usually direct readers to the beginning of the series. While I’m sure a casual reader could happily pick up this book and just about work things out, it really builds on its predecessor, Baileys Prize winning The Glorious Heresies, and you should really start there. Sequels to books like The Glorious Heresies are tough; when I read that the fizzing gritty poetry of it just blew me away whereas I was expecting that style from this meaning my expectations were already way higher. While it can’t possibly offer that initial wonder without becoming a different book altogether, that dark sharp writing is still there and there’s a lot to enjoy if you loved McInerney’s debut. It picks up the story quickly after the last left off and it’s full of brilliant charismatic characters, linguistic sparks and some moments of real tension
4. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti (Tinder Press) This is not the sort of book I’d usually pick up; on first glance it seems hyper-masculine and very American, not two qualities that tend to draw me to novels. However the editor who bought it, Mary-Anne Harrington, has wonderful taste and has published some books I’ve really loved over the last couple of years. And to be honest, it *is* fairly masculine in a stereotypical sort of way (there is lots of shooting, fishing and blood – I think Ron Swanson would enjoy much of this book) it’s also tender and lovely and has a curious fairy tale feel to it, compounded by the structure which switches between the titular Hawley’s current day life with his teenage daughter, and how he got each of the twelve bullet scars on his body.
5. Gone by Min Kym (Viking) Another read that I nearly didn’t go for; I tend to avoid memoir as I can only think of one I’ve ever really loved (The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson). This a bittersweet, quite melancholy read about the violin prodigy Min Kym, whose beloved Stradivarius violin was stolen, and the impact this had on her musically and personally. It’s a beautiful meditation on music, art and talent, but also on family, growing up, identity and relationships. Kym has a lovely
- Stargazing for Beginners by Jenny McLachlan (Bloomsbury) Last year I fell for McLachlan’s four-book Ladybird series; they’re a criminally underrated series of YA books about a group of friends which are warm, funny, wise and really moving. They deserve a much wider audience – if you like Holly Bourne or Louise Rennison, you should definitely seek them out. This is McLachlan’s first standalone and it’s still got all of the aforementioned adjectives plus a wonderful inspiring storyline all about girls who are good at science, ambition and achieving your dreams. I very sincerely think McLachlan is one of the absolute best British YA authors writing at the moment.
Life Advice Bonus: How to be a Grown-Up by Daisy Buchanan (Headline) and Doing It by Hannah Witton (Wren & Rook)
For anyone between the ages of about 15-25, especially readers who identify as female, you should be about set between the contents of both of these books. Imagine Witton as your cool friend at school who knows all the answers to the things you’ve previously tried to work out from the pages of Cosmo, and Buchanan as your older sister who settles you down for a chat, bottle of prosecco in hand. Doing It skews a bit younger and is focused on sex and relationships, while How to be a Grown-Up covers the gamut of friendship, work, making mistakes and mental health and is ideal for women in their early twenties. Both are warm and witty and wise, as well as beautifully designed books.