What do a polar explorer, a teenage girl, an aging teacher and writer, an unfulfilled wife and mother, and an eccentric healer have in common? A lot, surprisingly enough. Their intertwining experiences are calculatingly uncovered in Red Clocks, the third book by Leni Zumas.
I say “calculatingly” because the uncovering of the relationships felt just as deliberate as the development of the individual characters themselves. On both counts, I was puzzled at first, trying to figure out what these seemingly disparate characters have to do with one another and what story Zumas was trying to tell through them. But it didn’t take long before all the pieces fell into place to make a mosaic of women’s lives that was poignant and honest. Zumas is unafraid to shine a light on the imperfections and complexities of women’s inner voices and relationships.
Zumas masterfully switches voices among the four main characters, who are referred to in chapter headings as The Daughter, The Biographer, The Wife, and The Mender. I appreciated the statement Zumas makes by referring to them by these labels, as so often women are relegated to simple characterizations that do not represent the depth and fullness of our lives.
So adept is Zumas at identifying the unique voices of her characters, that the reader is taken inside their thoughts, is privy to their secrets, and bears witness to the repetitive and often destructive tapes that most women have playing incessantly inside their heads. The characters really come to life and more than once or twice reminded me of my own inner critic, especially The Biographer.
The Biographer is a single woman trying desperately to get pregnant before a new law goes into place that will outlaw single people becoming parents. A teacher by day, she is also writing a biography of an Arctic explorer whose story was almost lost to history. The imagery of ice and glacial bergs ran concurrently through The Biographer’s story, as if to indicate frozen qualities within her: her infertility, her solitude, and her methods of dealing with both. The Biographer copes with hardships with a dry wit that is at once deferential and yet serrated with disappointed observance of the ways of the unjust world in which she lives. (In my head I picture her as Susie Myerson, played by the amazing Alex Borstein, who is the friend-manager of Midge Maisel in the hilarious series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Which really doesn’t matter to this review but I had to share anyway.)
The Biographer comes to the aid of The Daughter, Mattie, who also suffers at the hands of the new Conservative Christian laws being passed. This time it is the strict Personhood Amendment that impugns women’s sexual and reproductive decisions and dictates the arrest of those who seek to have an abortion. It’s an unlikely pairing that works; Zumas seems to enjoy challenging her readers with scenarios that may seem unlikely but that are, at times, terrifyingly closer than we may like to think.
One of the biggest criticisms I have of Red Clocks was its whiteness, and by this I mean the broadest definition of whiteness-as-norm. The only character of color that is brought to our attention is Mattie’s former best friend, Yasmine. In an interview with Deirdre Sugiuchi in Electric Lit, Zumas discussed the intentionality of telling Yasmine’s story through The Daughter: “It was important to me to frame Mattie’s racial identity, more than Yasmine’s, as the site of conflict and unease. In this novel and beyond, I want my work to face the trouble of whiteness: how it’s been constructed, how its power is maintained, how we could imagine dismantling that power.” In this way, Zumas is writing and challenging what she knows: whiteness. While I appreciate this, I would’ve loved more development of this storyline or more interrogation of racial aspects in the Red Clocks future, because you know that as bad as white women would have it, women of color would have it worse. While fairly compared to A Handmaid’s Tale, Red Clocks would have helped the genre evolve by exploring themes of misogyny and white supremacy even more head-on and in-depth.
One of the real strengths of the book is the way in which Zumas captures the repetition and monotony of women’s everyday lives that exists concurrently with dynamic challenges and life-changing decisions. I felt the urgency each character faced throughout the book. By presenting characters of various ages centered on the main themes of reproduction and agency, Zumas encourages the reader to reflect upon how women’s priorities and decisions change over time and circumstance, how women regularly make intentional and informed choices about their bodies, and how the lack of agency has devastating effects on their lives. Fears of being forgotten or never discovered, of not loving or being loved, of being misunderstood and mistreated, of being found out, as well as the fear of regret are all real concerns and Zumas is masterful at weaving the characters, their multiple dimensions and their individual yet interlocking voices into a story that is captivating and thought-provoking.
In the end, I found Red Clocks a call to action. “They started talking about this thing called the Personhood Amendment, which for years has been a fringe idea, a farce.” This is how these things can happen, right? We think that the threat will never actualize and we become complacent. We stop being shocked, we don’t take the threats seriously, we stop fighting, and we stop supporting one another. Red Clocks may be a work of fiction but its messages hit much too close to home to ignore. While each of us is stronger than we think, we are even stronger together. Red Clocks gives us a glimpse into what the near future could be like if we don’t stand together and resist the forces that attempt to disenfranchise and diminish us.
“How can you build unshakable confidence and resilience in a world still filled with ignorance, inequality, and discrimination? The Queer and Transgender Resilience Workbook will teach you how to challenge internalized negative messages, handle stress, build a community of support, and embrace your true self.”–IndieBound
“I love An American Marriage, and I’m so excited for this book to be in the world. Tayari’s novel is timely, thoughtful, and beautifully written. Reading it, I found myself angry as hell, laughing out loud, choking up and cheering. A gem of a book.” – Jacqueline Woodson, author of Another Brooklyn and Brown Girl Dreaming
“An American Marriage is a stunning, epic love story filled with breathtaking twists and turns, while bursting with realized and unrealized dreams. Skillfully crafted and beautifully written, An American Marriage is an exquisite, timely, and powerful novel that feels both urgent and indispensable.” – Edwidge Danticat, author of Breath, Eyes, Memory
“Beard has taken a project of momentous impact and injected a human element into it. […] This is approachable, intelligent, and highly satisfying historical fiction.” – Booklist starred review
“Fans of historical fiction will devour this complex and human look at the people involved in the creation of the atomic bomb. A fascinating look at an underexplored chapter of American history.” – Kirkus
“I fell head-over-heels with the darkly lush world of The Belles. A book to read when you want to be transported somewhere dangerous and beautiful, where nothing is as it seems, and secrets abound.” – Megan Shepherd, New York Times bestselling author of The Madman’s Daughter series, The Cage series, and the forthcoming Grim Lovelies
“The Belles is a powerful discussion about the cost of beauty and what we are willing to do for it. Dhonielle Clayton creates a world both lush and dark, with prose so delectable you will savor every word.” – Zoraida Cordova, author of Labyrinth Lost, The Circle Unbroken, and The Vicious Deep series
“The Body Is Not an Apology is a gift, a blessing, a prayer, a reminder, a sacred text. In it, Taylor invites us to live in a world where different bodies are seen, affirmed, celebrated, and just. Taylor invites us to break up with shame, to deepen our literacy, and to liberate our practice of celebrating every body and never apologizing for this body that is mine and takes care of me so well. This book cracked me open in ways that I’m so grateful for. I know it will do the same for you.” – Alicia Garza, cocreator of the Black Lives Matter Global Network
In this powerful exposé, Bloomberg TV journalist Emily Chang reveals how Silicon Valley got so sexist despite its utopian ideals, why bro culture endures despite decades of companies claiming the moral high ground (Don’t Be Evil! Connect the World!)–and how women are finally starting to speak out and fight back. – Amazon
“Oloomi’s rich and delightful novel… crackles throughout with wit and absurdity… [Call Me Zebra] is a sharp and genuinely fun picaresque, employing humor and poignancy side-by-side to tell an original and memorable story.” – Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“This fierce meditation, a heady review of literature and philosophy as well as a love story, is a tour de force from the author of Fra Keeler that many will read and reread.” – Library Journal
“An arresting exploration of grief alongside a powder keg of a romance.” – Booklist
“Combining historical insight with inspiring argument, Deeds not Words reveals how far women have come since the suffragettes, how far we still have to go, and how we might get there. It is essential reading for anyone who wants to explore one of the most central and pressing conversations of our time.” – Amazon
“Lest you forget that Zadie Smith’s output encompasses several masterful careers, please allow Feel Free, her new collection of essays, to remind you…Incisive and often wry…these pieces are as relevant as can be. They are reminders of how much else there is to ponder in this world, how much else is worth our time, and how lucky we are to have Smith as our guide.” – Vanity Fair
“An elegant, moving, thoughtful meditation on grief, friendship, healing, and the bonds between humans and dogs.” – Buzzfeed
“Quietly brilliant and darkly funny… [The Friend is] rigorous and stark, so elegant—so dismissive of conventional notions of plot—it hardly feels like fiction. Breathtaking both in pain and in beauty; a singular book.” – Kirkus, starred review
“Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot is an astounding memoir in essays. Here is a wound. Here is need, naked and unapologetic. Here is a mountain woman, towering in words great and small… What Mailhot has accomplished in this exquisite book is brilliance both raw and refined.” – Roxane Gay, author of Hunger
“An inspirational journey through black fashion in America from the twentieth century to the present, featuring the most celebrated icons of Black style and taste.
One of the few surveys of Black style and fashion ever published, How to Slay offers a lavishly illustrated overview of African American style through the twentieth century, focusing on the last thirty-five years.” – Amazon
“Slutever is a funny, surprising, and ultimately enlightening book. Karley Sciortino is a natural-born killer of outmoded ways of thinking about love, sex, and personal agency. Generation slut has found a thoughtful, articulate voice.” – Christopher Ryan, Ph.D. (Co-author of Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships)
“[A] witty, deep memoir [that] digs into the power and the glory of female friendships…Where to start unpacking the good news that Kayleen Schaefer broadcasts in her timely, nimble, essential memoir…Every page of this book has something valuable to impart about the necessity of fostering female bonds and tending them with the same care we give to our relationships with family, spouses, and children.” – Elle
“A bold refusal to submit to stereotype.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Fiercely argued and solidly grounded, this an excellent primer on understanding and resisting the common distortions about Appalachia’s past and present.” —Anthony Harkins, author, Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon
“[An] immensely readable suffragette epic, with its full cast of the charismatic stars, character actors and the vast chorus who bravely and ingeniously dedicated–and risked–their lives to achieve the first modern, militant struggle in twentieth-century political theatre…” – Rachel Holmes, author of Eleanor Marx: A Life
“Sophfronia Scott has written a book of truth and grace. Clear-sighted in every way, Love’s Long Line has much to teach us about family, about the challenges the world gives us, about the journeys we make toward forgiveness. This is a book for the mind and the soul.” – Lee Martin, author of Pulitzer Prize finalist The Bright Forever
“Built is a terrific book–a necessary reminder of the wonderful human ingenuity behind the world’s greatest engineering projects, from Roman aqueducts to London’s magnificent Shard, which stands on foundations designed by the author herself. Lively, informative and exciting, Built will inspire readers of every stripe.” – Erica Wagner, author of Chief Engineer
“Roma Agrawal’s Built is a book about real engineering written by a real engineer who can really write.” – Henry Petroski, author of The Road Not Taken: The History and Future of America’s Infrastructure
“Melissa Dahl provides a fascinating (and often hilarious) examination of the underdiscussed feeling of awkwardness. Her practical, penetrating insights reveal that understanding what’s ‘cringeworthy’ can help us understand ourselves better–and create happier lives.” –Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and The Four Tendencies
“In her mind-blowing debut, Emezi weaves traditional Igbo myth that turns the well-worn narrative of mental illness on its head, and in doing so she has ensured a place on the literary-fiction landscape as a writer to watch . . . Emezi’s brilliance lies not just in her expert handling of the conflicting voices in Ada’s head but in delivering an entirely different perspective on just what it means to go slowly mad. Complex and dark, this novel will simultaneously challenge and reward lovers of literary fiction. A must-read.” – Booklist starred review
“Stunning. Kim Fu explores the lifelong ripple effects of tragedy, writing with wit, heart and precision. A cast of characters both flawed and fascinating. I was utterly transfixed by this book.” – Katrina Onstad, bestselling author of Everybody has Everything
“The characters in Kim Fu’s dark, deftly woven fable align and disperse like planets, bound in their separate orbits to a shared, definitive moment in time. Fu traces those orbits with a master astronomer’s care and observation, mapping in clear and rich prose a hidden universe of girlhood and becoming” – Michelle Orange, author of This Is Running for Your Life
“If you’ve ever wondered if all those Disney movies you watched as a kid really screwed up your adult life, this one is for you. Described by the author as “a self-help book for people who hate self-help books” Jen Kim’s Love And . . . is a hilarious and eye-opening journey through your muddled past relationships as well as Kim’s own, as she looks at the science and psychology behind why we love (or, you know, don’t) in the ways that we do. Just in time for Valentine’s Day.” – Bustle
“Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride–or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia–the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion
Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances–one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.”–IndieBound
A story about groundbreaking Iranian poet Forough Farrokhzad, this debut was described by Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage and Silver Sparrow: “Written with the urgent tenderness of a love letter, this soaring novel is a heart-breaker and heart-mender at once—a gorgeous tribute to the brave and brilliant poet remembered in its pages.”
“This confessional self-help guide explores the complex emotional truth of what it’s like when food, weight, and body image take priority over every other human impulse or action. Activist author Marissa LaRocca’s revelatory tale includes her struggle with her secrets, including sexuality, and how she emerged as an outspoken advocate for gay rights and women’s health issues.”–IndieBound
“Lorena Hickok is a woman who found love with another lost soul, Eleanor Roosevelt. And love is what this book is all about: It suffuses every page, so that by the time you reach the end, you are simply stunned by the beauty of the world these two carved out for themselves.” – Melanie Benjamin, author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue
“A powerful, in-depth exploration of the work of black female activists between 1920 and 1960.” — The Root
“Keisha Blain has dug deeply into twentieth-century history to reveal the personal and political lives of African diaspora women determined to Set the World on Fire as they walked a fine line between leading and adhering to the black nationalist dictate of masculine leadership. Drawing upon a range of materials, including FBI files, personal letters, newspapers, and federal census records, Blain details every step of these women’s organizing efforts and their pan-African visions.”–Ula Taylor, author of The Promise of Patriarchy: Women and the Nation of Islam
“So rich they read like dreams—or, more often, nightmares—the nine stories in Sachdeva’s otherworldly debut center upon the unforgiving forces that determine the shape of our lives. . . . A strikingly unified collection, with each story reading like a poem, or a fable, staring into the unknowable. . . . They are enormous stories, not in length but in ambition, each an entirely new, unsparing world. Beautiful, draining—and entirely unforgettable.” – Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“The nine stories in Sachdeva’s intriguing debut collection raise challenging questions about human responses to short-circuited desires. . . . These inventive stories will challenge readers to rethink how people cope with thwarted hopes.” – Publishers Weekly
“A most promising and original young writer.”–Ursula K. Le Guin
“I’m looking forward to the collection . . . everything I’ve read has impressed me–the past and future visions in ‘Delhi’, the intensity of ‘Thirst’, the feeling of escape at the end of ‘The Tetrahedron’…”–Niall Harrison, Vector (British Science Fiction Association)
..”.the first writer of Indian origin to make a serious mark in the SF world … she writes with such a beguiling touch of the strange.”–Nilanjana Roy, Business Standard
When Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray met at church bingo in 1963, it was love at first sight. Forced apart by their families and society, Hazel and Mari both married young men and had families. Decades later, now in their mid-’60s, Hazel and Mari reunite again at a church bingo hall. Realizing their love for each other is still alive, what these grandmothers do next takes absolute strength and courage. – Amazon
“After decades of art collecting, prominent Washington D.C.-based activist, philanthropist, and founder of the august Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Peggy Cooper Cafritz had amassed one of the most important collections of work by artists of color in the country. But in 2009, the more than three hundred works that comprised this extraordinary collection were destroyed in the largest residential fire in Washington, D.C. history. The pioneering collection included art by Kara Walker, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas, Yinka Shonibare, Nick Cave, Kehinde Wiley, Barkley L. Hendricks, Lorna Simpson, and Carrie Mae Weems, among many others. This beautifully illustrated volume features 200 of the works that were lost, along with works that she has collected since the fire, as well as important contributions by preeminent curators and artists.”–IndieBound
In ancient China, history, vengeance, and murder collide for a female sleuth.
At thirteen, investigative prodigy Huang Zixia had already proved herself by aiding her father in solving confounding crimes. At seventeen, she’s on the run, accused of murdering her family to escape an arranged marriage. Driven by a single-minded pursuit, she must use her skills to unmask the real killer…and clear her name. – Amazon
“A writer candidly confronts her personal truth in her quest for transformation, transcendence, and redemption.”–Kirkus Review
“Actress and playwright Tina Alexis Allen’s audacious memoir unravels her privileged suburban Catholic upbringing that was shaped by her formidable father–a man whose strict religious devotion and dedication to his large family hid his true nature and a life defined by deep secrets and dangerous lies.”–IndieBound
“Powerful and heart-wrenching, Krystal Sital’s beautifully written memoir, Secrets We Kept, details her family history on Trinidad, as her grandmother and mother finally unleash their voices to uncover the brutal truth of who her grandfather truly was.”
– Jean Kwok, author of Mambo in Chinatown and Girl in Translation
“Discriminating Sex will threaten some, infuriate others. Nonetheless, Sueyoshi’s scholarship as well as the ingenuity of her narrative is sure to astonish as she demonstrates that Euro-American views of gender/sexuality–both their own and of people of color–are imaginaries formed in a crucible of desire, fear, and power.”–Lane Ryo Hirabayashi, author of Japanese American Resettlement through the Lens: Hikaru Carl Iwasaki and the WRA’s Photographic Section, 1943-1945
“Kasai explores the horrors of slavery and its legacy in this gothic tale that tingles on the verge of psychological horror. For readers of African American literary fiction and dark, surreal stories.”–Library Journal
“Kirsten Imani Kasai’s multi-period tale, The House of Erzulie, is a fascinating and surreal look into troubled minds. Both Isidore’s and Lydia’s grip on reality spins in and out of control; they experience visions, besotted compulsions, and self-mutilation as the veil between their worlds becomes increasingly tattered and their lives take parallel turns. Ms. Kasai’s settings are lush, and her sometimes-brutal tale is compulsive stuff (though squeamish readers beware!), even when her reader is left unsure of reality. I rarely say that I can’t put a book down, but The House of Erzulie left me besotted too. Highly recommended.”–Historical Novel Society
Freedom’s Dance provides a photographic and textual overview of the social, aid and pleasure club (SAPC) parade culture in New Orleans, tracking its origins in African traditions and subsequent development in Black New Orleans culture. Containing over 175 photographs by Eric Waters, Freedom’s Danceoffers the first complete look at the SAPC Second Line tradition, ranging from ideological approaches to the contributions of musicians, development of specific rituals by various clubs, and parade accessories such as elaborately decorated fans and sashes. – Amazon
From the award-winning entrepreneur, culture leader, and creator of the BLACK GIRLS ROCK movement comes an inspiring and beautifully designed book that pays tribute to the achievements and contributions of black women around the world.
Fueled by the insights of women of diverse backgrounds, including Michelle Obama, Angela Davis, Shonda Rhimes, Misty Copeland Yara Shahidi, and Mary J. Blige, this book is a celebration of black women’s voices and experiences that will become a collector’s items for generations to come. – IndieBound
“Known for her wide-ranging feminist writing about everything from princess culture to breast cancer, Orenstein presents a collection of her essays that are both striking and timely.”–New York Times Book Review)
“The real strength of this collection is Orenstein’s beautiful interweaving of personal stories with politics and her writings on/about politics…. She enriches her readers’ understanding of abortion laws, breast cancer, body image, pornography, and other timely issues in specific yet open-ended and complex ways.”–Library Journal, starred review
“A Girl Like That is unlike any YA book I’ve ever read: a fascinating and disturbing glance into the gender discrimination and double-standards as seen through the eyes of a teenage girl in Saudi Arabia. It raised awareness for me, and is certain to inspire discussion and raise questions about equality, justice, and basic human rights.” – Jodi Picoult, #1 NYT Bestselling Author of Small Great Things and Leaving Time
“Is it wrong that I wanted to underline every single word in this book? Simmons brilliantly crystallizes contemporary girls’ dilemma: the way old expectations and new imperatives collide; how a narrow, virtually unattainable vision of ‘success’ comes at the expense of self-worth and well-being. Enough As She is a must-read, not only for its diagnosis of the issues but for its insightful, useful strategies on how to address them.” – Peggy Orenstein, author of Girls & Sex
“If not you, then who? If not now, then when? We need more women to speak up and make their voices heard. Young women have valuable experiences and perspectives. We need you in this fight.” Senator Elizabeth Warren, from a Girl’s Guide to Joining the Resistance
“I know what it means to work really hard to conceal the pain, struggle, and heartache in one’s life, to appear ‘fine’ just for the sake of other people. Because the reality of my life might have made others momentarily uncomfortable, I’d hide my own discomfort. It’s a hard habit to break and one that women have become adept at, one that is reinforced in the way our society treats, talks about, and engages with women who are ill or struggling. Thank you, Michele, for freeing us from the burden of being fine and shining a light on all the hidden pain women have been working so hard to conceal.” – Nora McInerny, podcast host for Terrible, Thanks for Asking and author of It’s Okay to Laugh
“…a nonfiction book of deeply personal essays by marginalised people operating at the intersection of feminism, witchcraft, and resistance to summon power and become fearsome in a world that would prefer them afraid. With contributions from twenty witchy femmes, queer conjurers, and magical rebels, BECOMING DANGEROUS is a book of intelligent and challenging essays that will resonate with anyone who’s ever looked for answers outside the typical places.” – Fiction & Feeling
Uncertain of the exact release date but pre-order yours soon!