Hello! I'm Sarah, the co-owner of Women & Children First. I read broadly, but I especially love personal essay collections, memoir, graphic memoir, and contemporary fiction. I love local and emerging authors, and my heart sings when I connect with Disabled authors.
Royster’s memoir is so full of love that it practically thumps with its own heartbeat. Warm, tender, and joyful, even in its moments of sadness and loss, she tells the story of building a family with her wife Annie, but acknowledges that she can’t do so without also incorporating the stories of her ancestors as well as healthy dose of accessible queer theory. A masterclass in how telling one’s own story can at once dismante systems and build anew.
When Geeta’s abusive husband disappeared five years ago, she decided not to deny the rumors that she killed him. So now the women of her village are coming to her for help offing their own godawful husbands! Although there is staggering brutality and trauma in this novel’s depiction of the daily life of women and girls in rural India, the laugh-out-loud dialogue and the hijinks of their gleeful murder plotting keep it buoyant and bright. Geeta’s political awakening is invigorating to watch as she decides she’s expended "too much energy vying for a broken seat at an uneven table.”
I’ve never played a video game more complex than Tetris and yet this novel about video games is my favorite of the year. The texture of the storytelling is just that good. It explodes all your expectations, focusing on the unconventional love story of two collaborators / business partners. Sadie and Sam meet in a children’s hospital playing Donkey Kong and grow up to become the co-founders of the wildly successful video game company Unfair Games. The novel zigzags and tunnels deeper and finds all kinds of trap doors and secret passages, uncovering new lusts, losses, and power dynamics. It’s fascinating to watch the mechanics–the way the characters manipulate one another and show care. It also tangles with themes around immortality and what we leave behind when it’s GAME OVER.
The singular voice of Blandine Watkins drives this riveting National Book Award Winner. The reader walks through the walls and opens the doors of several residents of La Lapiniére Affordable Housing Complex, AKA the Rabbit Hutch. Set in Vacca Vale--an imagined Indiana town exploited and then abandoned by industry. This novel was called "ambitious" in that patronizing way that critics like to pat the heads of young women writers. But it is ambitious because it demands to be. Tess Gunty takes on everything--environmental devastation, toxic masculinity, mental health, gentrification, and, of course, the disorienting and dehumanizing effect of sharing the same roof with so many somebodies and never even knowing one another's names.
This short story collection builds and builds until it reaches a powerful crescendo of a novella that is a flat-out knockout! Sharp, funny, sexy, topical, and contemporary in a way that is savvy and earned. Evans' voice is steely and bold as her various, richly developed narrators--predominantly young women of color--navigate issues of race, grief, and sacrifice.
LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND is an immersive and unnerving page-turner that opens with a family arriving at an idyllic vacation house far away from their NYC apartment. Late one night, a knock at the door catapults the story into an unexpected direction that brims with suspense along with meditations on race, privilege, and what we owe one another.
GOLEM GIRL is a triumph! Too often disability narrative canonize, normalize, or sanitize their subjects. GOLEM GIRL by local author and visual artist Riva Lehrer is a crisp, powerful, vulnerable, messy departure from the typical. Detailing living with Spina bifida through the relationships that formed her, Riva's writing is as stunning as her artwork. (One of my Top Five Books of 2020) -Sarah
NIGHT MOVES is about the homes we build for ourselves through friends, parties, songs, and cigarette smoke. This is a big-hearted love letter to Chicago even when Hopper snarls with sharp critique. This is a book you curl up with on the steps of your third floor walk-up, nodding along with the giddy nostalgia as the loud music from your neighbors' open windows swirls together to make a soundtrack.
One of my all-time favorite memoirs. Vulnerable and nuanced, Mann's writing is nearly as exquisite as her photographs (also featured in the book). Mann opens up about her in-laws' shocking death, the harrassment that ensued after publishing her controversial "family photographs", her gnawing self-doubt, and her love-hate relationship with the American South. All artists must read this book.
It's difficult to imagine a more perfectly crafted memoir. Patti Smith's opus. A tender masterpiece.
Required reading for all Americans. The most vital book I read in 2014.
Drawing on her own and others' experiences of pain, violence, heartbreak, and addiction, as well as the work of Sontag, Kundera, Didion, and others, Leslie Jamison's extraordinary collection of essays had me tripping over myself to underline especially insightful passages and gasp over quiet revelations. I wanted to press this book into the hands of strangers because I think these questions about how we strive toward, shy away from, and/or deftly perform empathy are necessary--now and always.
In one of the essays in Once I Was Cool, Megan describes going to a Jane's Addiction concert when she was just 16. She describes the moment when the band started playing her song and how she began singing all of the lyrics at the top of her lungs. Then, teenage Megan looks around and sees thousands of people singing the lyrics to her song. The beautiful and powerful humanity of that moment is what I felt rippling through every essay in this incredible collection. READ LOCAL! READ THIS.
I binged on these dark short stories that crackle with hilariously biting dialogue! No one talks the way Moore's characters talk, and I can't get enough. One of my favorite writers at her best.
When fourteen-year-old June Elbus loses her beloved uncle Finn to AIDS, she is devastated. At the funeral, she catches sight of a lanky stranger, whom her older sister tells her is Toby--Finn's "special friend" and also his "murderer." Toby doesn't look like a murderer to June, so when he reaches out to befriend her, she decides to accept the invitation. As their friendship grows, June discovers the only other person on earth who seeems to understand why she can't "move on" and forget Finn's death like her mother wants her to. Set in the late 1980s--in the thick of the AIDS crisis--Tell the Wolves I'm Home is a gorgeously written and honest portrait of a young girl's evolving understanding of the different shapes that love can take. June is a robustly "weird" teenager, a romantic, who adores anything related to Medieval times, wears fiercely non-trendy boots and long corduroy skirts, plays alone in the woods, and watches A Room with a View every chance she gets. She will break your heart as she, so vulnerably, navigates through the treacherous middle place between kid and adult.
When I think of great memoir, this is the book that first bubbles to mind! This classic is a richly textured story of a mother who feels trapped in small-town Texas and a daughter, the author, who weathers and strives to explain away the neglect and abuse that emerge from her mother's raging distcontent. A story crackling iwth unforgettable voices.
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, this absorbing story follows a fearless group of young children in Zambabwe. 10-year-old Darling is the effortlessly likeable, sharply clever leader, who runs wild with her friends (Godknows, Bastard, and Chipo to name a few). As they steal guavas and play games like "Find Bin Laden," they also occasionally, solemnly discuss what life was like Before--before the paramilitary came and bulldozed all of their homes, regardless of who was inside. The story follows Darling when she moves to "Destroyed" Michigan, escaping extreme poverty and hunger, only to land in an America nothing like the one she imagined.
Zadie Smith's most invigorating novel yet! Each of the four sections is helmed by a different narrator, all of whom grew up in Caldwell, a council estate in a low-income area of London. They are now adults living within vastly different income brackets and enjoying different levels of professional and personal happiness. Along with a slew of fully fleshed peripheral characters, the main storylines of Leah, Natalie, Felix, and Nathan are told in distinct voices, at a breakneck pace and feature crisp and funny and/or tragic dialogue. This is not an easy read. The first section, Leah's, is especially fractured, making it at times difficult to differentiate what is real from what isn't. What remains very real throughout the novel is the complex and evolving friendship between Leah and Natalie, as they both struggle with their separate decisions about having/not having children. NW sometimes reads like a series of individual short stories, but together they create this spellbinding conversation about what factors determine where we end up even when we begin in the same place.
It’s astonishing that a book this slim can be so powerful—and punishing. This novel (that reads like a memoir), centers upon a single, seemingly small moment in which the narrator runs into a childhood playmate in the halls of his new high school and chooses to ignore him. Gripped with guilt, Maxwell recounts the life of this ex friend and the terrible murder that forever changed the boy’s life. In this profound meditation on truth and memory, Maxwell writes, “In talking about the past, we lie with every breath we take.”
A suspenseful graphic memoir about a deeply troubled family--as beautiful as it is heartbreaking.
You’ll never look at a telephone pole or a babydoll the same after reading this incisive book of essays by Chicago author, Eula Biss. Biss draws upon history, pop culture, and her own personal experiences--as a teacher at a Harlem school and a reporter for an African American newspaper--to examine race and racial identity in America. Each essay is riddled with unfiltered observations, meticulously drawn connections, and plain old facts that had me gasping aloud.
A must-read for anyone who writes about real people and struggles with the ethics of doing so.
The absolute best, so perfect, most timeless, very great children's book ever written! The sentiment captured in the final page gets me every time.
I'm just very glad that this book exists.