It’s difficult to believe that I’m writing this as the calendar flips from September to October. The year is three-quarters complete. Despite this year’s bright memories of receiving the vaccine and seeing loved ones after a year or more apart, the defining factor of 2021 has been its relation to 2020. “Last year” still feels like it should be 2019, but soon, 2021 will have that title. Maybe the fragmented nature of the last two years is why I’m drawn to poetry and novels in verse for this season’s arts guide — books that capture the enormity of feelings in an economy of space. But if you like thrillers or essays or lighthearted romances, there’s something here for you too. Nothing gets you in the mindset of fall in New England like a book by a New Englander.
By Antonio de Jesús López
Palo Alto is the poster child of gentrification with Silicon Valley overshadowing Antonio de Jesús López’s hometown. López’s effervescent poetry straddles the tension of code switching between these two places. An alum of the arts and writing residency program at Vermont Studio Center, this collection examines the fraught feelings of higher education when institutions prop up scholarship students as exceptions, not the rule. López wants to challenge that assumption. His poetry wrestles between the fire of right-wing bigots who taunt “one must learn English in order to succeed in this country” and the frying pan of white liberals who want to tokenize him.
By Daniel Kraus, illustrated by Chris Shehan
Leaf-peepers beware: the autumn portrayed in this graphic novel makes for a much more sinister New Hampshire. Kat Somerville returns to her hometown, Comfort Notch, for her estranged mother’s funeral, 25 years after her mother sent 9-year-old Kat away. But when her new neighbor dies suddenly, it’s not just Kat’s own past that haunts her, and she must uncover the town’s dark secret — or else her own young daughter might be at risk. This story and its creepily evocative illustrations will elicit chills down your spine in the best way.
'Payback’s a Witch'
By Lana Harper
Emmy Harlow has some very good reasons for not visiting her magical hometown in over a decade. But when a once-in-a-generation tournament rolls around to determine which Thistle Grove family has the strongest magic, Emmy reluctantly returns. Her quiet plans quickly turn to revenge against the man who was two-timing her best friend and another woman — a mysterious, beautiful, badass witch in her own right. In her debut novel for adults, Lana Harper hatches a spooky, tropey rom-com that would be the perfect read for Halloween or Valentine’s Day. Harper is a graduate of Yale, Boston University and Emerson College.
'The Heartbreak Bakery'
By A. R. Capetta
Syd is cooking up some heartbreak...literally. Fresh off a breakup, Syd channels difficult emotions through the catharsis of baking. Only now, after eating Syd’s baked goods, everyone around Syd seems to be breaking up too. Turns out Syd’s brownies may have just been a little bit magical. Will Syd be able to whip up a cure for heartbreak? This sweet queer novel will charm you, magic brownies or not. A. R. Capetta teaches in a writing MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
'Destroyer of Light'
By Jennifer Marie Brissett
What if the apocalypse succeeded? There was no movie-script ending for humanity in this novel from Brissett, who was raised in Cambridge. Aliens destroyed Earth and the survivors were forced to escape to a new planet. Brissett masterfully weaves together years (and lightyears) through a Hades and Persephone retelling filled with the devastating impacts of war and kidnapping, the power dynamics between people and aliens, and the psychic powers that could save — or destroy — them all, again.
'Madder: A Memoir in Weeds'
By Marco Wilkinson
Weeds are ubiquitous, and only out of place in the eye of the beholder. What does it mean when weeds flourish where they are not wanted? This poetic memoir uses beautiful imagery to describe growing up in Rhode Island as the son of an Uruguayan immigrant. Wilkinson portrays his restless uncertainty in regards to his paternity, his family’s immigration status, and his queer identity. But Wilkinson (now a horticulturist) triumphs when he is able to put down roots.
By Gregory Galloway
Theft is a carefully constructed career plan for Rick and Frank, who follow routine house burglaries thanks to instructions from a secretive boss. One job requires them to steal a seemingly worthless object...that is until the pair get into a sudden car accident, and Frank vanishes with the stolen trophy. Now Rick must question the value of the lost object, his relationship with Frank, and past events that led his life to this moment. An unreliable narrator makes this thriller all the more gripping. Gregory Galloway lives in Connecticut.
'Dreaming of You'
By Melissa Lozada-Oliva
In a captivating novel written in verse, Melissa Lozada-Oliva (as both author and protagonist) brings pop star Selena back from the dead. The idealization of celebrity worship quickly turns sour as Selena’s resurrected life and career quickly overshadow Lozada-Oliva the character’s hopes for her own career and love. While playing with imagery that’s equal parts macabre and absurd, former Boston resident Lozada-Oliva the author strikes an emotional chord about navigating the world and belonging.
'Black Paper: Writing in a Dark Time'
By Teju Cole
This collection of essays explores the darkness of 2016 through 2019 as a Black man in America through the lenses of art, literature, travel and politics. Like black carbon paper that “transports the meaning” to the topmost paper, Cole elevates his commentary through the use of various art mediums — the role of shadow in photography, the meaning of the color black in visual arts, the place literature holds in activism. He zooms in on his personal experiences, expands the frame to talk about his family, and widens the scope across history to relate to this specific moment in time. Both deeply personal and universal, Cole’s collection explores what it means to be a human and an artist during a tumultuous time. Teju Cole is currently a professor of creative writing at Harvard.
'Dava Shastri’s Last Day'
By Kirthana Ramisetti
It’s one thing to wonder what people will say about you at your funeral — it’s another thing to stage your death in order to find out. Eccentric billionaire Dava Shastri does have terminal brain cancer...she just wants to revel in the inevitable accolades for her philanthropy before she kicks the bucket. Instead, the press gets ahold of two devastating secrets she kept from her children, and now the whole world knows. Now Shastri has time to make amends...but will she? Kirthana Ramisetti received her MFA in creative writing from Emerson College.