Our April/May 2018 book reviews are now online! Check out BUST’s favorite reads this spring, including new novels by Meg Wolitzer, Melissa Broder, and more. Don’t forget to subscribe here!
Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet
By Claire L. Evans
If you’ve seen Hidden Figures (or even if you haven’t), it won’t come as a surprise that the contributions of women have been largely left out of the history of computing. The irony is that “computer” originally referred to a human computer, usually female; mathematicians even once described machine labor as equivalent to one “kilogirl.”
Thankfully, now there’s author Claire L. Evans’ compelling collection of profiles to give voice to the smart and stubborn women whose intelligence and inventiveness helped create today’s digital world. The list of women she features includes such pioneers as Ada Lovelace, who worked on the first mechanical computer in the 1840s; Grace Hopper, whose skills as a programmer helped win World War II; Stacy Horn, who created an early female-friendly N.Y.C.-based social network; Dame Wendy Hall, one of the first multimedia hypertext researchers; and Jaime Levy, creator of a ’90s electronic punk fanzine. The takeaway is clear: women have been instrumental in creating what we now know as the internet all along. 3/5 –Erica Wetter
The Female Persuasion: A Novel
By Meg Wolitzer
Much like she did in The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer uses an ensemble cast in her newest novel to explore issues of growing up, growing old, and the ways in which small choices can reverberate over a lifetime. At the center of this funny, readable sprawl is Greer, a college freshman looking for an example of an adult she wants to emulate. She finds her model in Faith Frank, a 63-year-old noted feminist who inspires Greer to fight injustice. In supporting roles are Greer’s boyfriend Cory and best friend Zee, and these characters have almost better storylines than Greer and Faith. Cory assumes a family responsibility that takes him off an Ivy League consultant track and Zee finds her own way as Greer pursues the life she thinks she wants.
Wolitzer uses Greer and Faith to mine the differences between second- and fourth-wave feminism, but she seems most comfortable exploring Faith’s point of view (acknowledging intersectionality isn’t quite the same as embracing it). She also has a lot to say about the ways in which our idols can disappoint us, and the ways we often disappoint ourselves. 4/5 –Aileen Gallagher
The Pisces: A Novel
By Melissa Broder
Melissa Broder’s first novel has a lot in common with her essay collection So Sad Today: a frank examination of mental health; a sharp sense of humor; and sometimes-erotic, sometimes-cringeworthy, usually-explicit descriptions of sex. But The Pisces has something So Sad Today does not—a sexy merman.
Readers follow Lucy, a 38-year-old academic in Phoenix working on a dissertation on Sappho. Following a breakup-induced breakdown, Lucy agrees to dog-sit in Venice Beach for the summer. There, she fills her time with court-ordered group therapy, unsatisfying sex with Tinder dates, and her dissertation. But this routine gets disrupted when Lucy meets a mysterious swimmer named Theo. Eventually, he reveals his secret (and his tail) to her, and they begin a sexual relationship. The sex scenes are often funny (“his balls were delicious, like raw oysters”), but Broder balances the weirdness of merman erotica with a realistic look at depression and recovery. The Pisces is perfect for anyone who wishes The Shape of Water was more explicit, but is also great for those looking for a novel that gets real about mental health, with a little fantasy thrown in. 5/5 –Erika W. Smith
Getting Off: One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction
By Erica Garza
(Simon & Schuster)
In this gripping memoir, author Erica Garza shares her personal struggle with sex addiction, giving a different face and narrative to the disorder than what is commonly seen. As an awkward and bullied teen forced to wear a back brace, Garza found solace in masturbating, eventually graduating to online pornography and cybersex with strangers. As an adult, she moves across the country and the world, seeking out toxic relationships and casual hookups. But when Garza attempts to stay in a healthy relationship with her future husband, she realizes how problematic it is to prioritize sexual release above all else and begins to plumb her psychological depths to find the root of her problem.
When Garza starts attending Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous meetings and rehabilitative retreats, she discovers a deep-seated feeling of worthlessness and unworthiness stemming from her adolescence that has been triggering this self-sabotaging cycle. Bravely laying herself bare on the page, Garza supplements her own story with broader data on sex addiction, creating an engrossing and informative look at a growing problem. 5/5 –Adrienne Urbanski
Halsey Street: A Novel
By Naima Coster
Set against the backdrop of modern-day Brooklyn, Naima Coster’s debut novel merges themes of gentrification, home, and family with nuance and grace. Coster introduces readers to art-school dropout Penelope Grand, a woman returning to her native Bed-Stuy to look after her ailing father and contending with her hometown, rendered suddenly unrecognizable by a new generation of white, wealthy neighbors. The narrative alternates between Penelope and her estranged mother, Mirella, as both grapple with their severed relationship and a changing cultural landscape.
Coster writes a story that could easily be predictable or simple, but her complicated characters and lush, emotionally intelligent writing make this so much more than just a novel about family and gentrification. Instead, Halsey Street contains a searing, important story about how we reckon with the past during a shifting present, what we sacrifice to find our own freedom and sense of belonging, and what it means to be a mother—and a daughter. This book will touch you, and will hold on long after Penelope’s story ends. 5/5 –Lydia Wang
Rookie on Love: 45 Voices on Romance, Friendship, and Self-Care
Edited by Tavi Gevinson
Love is a many-splendored thing, or so they say. And the writers in this anthology say love is all kinds of things, from splendored to heartsick to grateful to littered with ones that got away. This single-topic anthology (a departure from Rookie’s Yearbook series) covers familial love, crushes from afar, true romance, love for oneself, and friendship—all from voices as varied as their themes. And formats range from interviews (like the lovely piece from Marlo Thomas), to dialogues (like the one between John Green and Rainbow Rowell), to poems and essays (from sweet smartypantses like Gabourey Sidibe, Mitski Miyawaki, Hilton Als, and Rookie readers).
Some selections are so striking, you’ll forget you’re reading a book and want to print them out (Jenny Zhang’s piece on self-respect comes to mind). Perhaps that’s because all these pieces are brief like blog posts, and don’t flow so much as snap from one to the next. It’s a feeling akin to clicking from one article to the suggested next one on a site meant for everyone. 4/5 –Christine Femia
The Immortalists: A Novel
By Chloe Benjamin
(G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
In her follow-up to The Anatomy of Dreams, novelist Chloe Benjamin poses a simple question: What would you do if you knew the day you were going to die? The Gold siblings—Varya, Daniel, Klara, and Simon—go together to see a woman rumored to be capable of telling anyone the day on which they would die. Each child is given a date, and each grapples with what their end could mean. For Simon, a gay teen coming of age in the 1970s, a fast approaching date is license to chase his dreams; for eldest child Varya, the promise of a long life leaves her fearful of all the loss one can suffer. But was the woman right? Or do the siblings’ belief in her help determine their own ends?
Benjamin weaves a moving portrait of intimacy, loss, and personal struggle. But her premise begins to feel like a hindrance as she tries to resolve questions around the veracity of the death dates given to each of the Golds. She poses interesting questions about how living is shaped by loss, but the places where the plot feels stretched will leave the reader wanting. 3/5 –Bridey Heing
Sister of Darkness: The Chronicles of a Modern Exorcist
By R.H. Stavis with Sarah Durand
(Dey Street Books)
The power of Christ doesn’t compel R.H. Stavis. As a non-denominational exorcist, she uses her intuition to release demons from her clients. According to Stavis, we all, at some point in our lives, will be possessed. And she’s here to help by sharing her experiences, which are nothing like The Exorcist. Stavis details the different demons she’s encountered while doing this work part-time and pro-bono—she makes money as a screenwriter, and is best known for creating Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider back story—from the low-level “Clive” to the “Realm Walkers,” a malevolent “movie-style demon” that she says was “very present” in the 2016 election.
Unfortunately, since Stavis’ clients are often actors and musicians who prefer to keep their possessions out of the headlines, she tends to gloss over the juiciest details of her work. Instead, she veers into self-help, sharing herb blend recipes and tips for raising your “frequency.” When she gets to the part about why she’ll never visit The Cecil, an L.A. hotel known for unsolved murders, you’ll have trouble putting the book down. But it’ll also make you wish Stavis was always this candid. 3/5 –Shannon Carlin
The Thorn Necklace: Healing Through Writing and the Creative Process
By Francesca Lia Block
Francesca Lia Block’s writing is known for its dreamy, punk rock, magical qualities. And her fans will be instantly captivated by The Thorn Necklace because of how closely Block’s retelling of her own childhood and adolescence echoes the lives of her most famous protagonists. It’s a memoir structured as a writer’s manual, but if you’re only looking for advice, you’ll be frustrated by the lengthy passages devoted to Block’s relationships with her artist father, muse mother, teachers, therapists, and lovers who became points of obsession and heartbreak. Each story does, ultimately, connect to Block’s life as a writer. And she also offers more concrete guidance in the form of questions and prompts that she uses to outline her most famous novel, Weetzie Bat.
By vividly describing her writer’s journey, Block has created a rich world her fans will want to inhabit by sitting down to write themselves. The Thorn Necklace is an important guide that steers readers toward individual identities as writers. 5/5 –Molly Horan
Though I Get Home
By YZ Chin
(The Feminist Press at CUNY)
YZ Chin’s linked story collection, Though I Get Home, while geographically set in Malaysia, is a universal tale of just how connected we all are. Following protagonist Isabella, readers are prompted to wonder: What would you do if you went to your first political rally, then returned home to discover you’d become an internet sensation and government officials were already banging down your door to take you to prison?
How the small becomes big, and the big falls apart, are recurring themes in these quick chapters. If you like people watching, you’ll love how deeply developed, relatable, and approachable Chin’s characters are. She creates a world to dive into and get lost in, but then kindly takes your hand and leads you right back home. The Isabella we first meet is not the Isabella we leave—and readers are left similarly changed by the experience. 4/5 –Bri Kane
Would You Rather?: A Memoir of Growing Up and Coming Out
By Katie Heaney
Would You Rather? is the perfect companion to author Katie Heaney’s first book, Never Have I Ever: My Life (SO FAR) Without a Date. While the latter navigated the Minnesotan-turned-New Yorker’s virginity and strikeout record with men, Would You Rather? describes her realization that she wasn’t into that shit because she’s actually gay.
Poignant, insightful, and LOL-funny, this memoir glides through chapters titled “The L Word,” “OKCupid, Redux” and “Gold Star.” There’s something here for everyone: a primitive but effective tutorial on how to give a guy a hand job, a barebones dress-down of New York City, tips on overcoming fears of airplanes and sexuality, and a whole chapter on Harry Styles. “It is normal to take stock of your smart and beautiful friends,” Heaney writes, “and then the dopey, dumb-ass, not-very-nice guys they’re dating, and think, What the fuck?” It’s in this way that Heaney’s book is intrinsically relatable—whether you are trying to get out of the closet, or kinda already are. 4/5 –Whitney Dwire
This article originally appeaared in the April/May 2018 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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