Spring is finally here, and the Chicago Review of Books team couldn’t be more excited! The season brings us hints of warmer weather, new life, and plenty of exciting releases.
Our list this month offers so much to look forward to, from landmark debuts of fresh voices to eye-opening works of nonfiction. Even if the springtime rain keeps you inside, know that these twelve must-read books of April will keep you company from now until the official start of beach read season!
The Last Animal
By Ramona Ausubel
The Last Animal has already appeared on our list of most anticipated 2023 books, and for good reason. Ramona Ausubel’s new release is an incredibly sharp and sweeping novel about our modern planet with an intimate emotional core. When two teenagers discover a perfectly preserved, four-thousand-year old baby mammoth in the permafrost of Siberia while on an expedition with their recently widowed mother, they kick off a journey that results in the birth of a creature that could change the world forever. Balancing the breadth and complexity of our ailing ecosystems and the resonant humanity of a grieving family, Ausubel has crafted an unforgettable tale for our time.
The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa
By Stephen Buoro
Andrew Aziza—a smart fifteen-year-old dreamer living in Kontagora, Nigeria—fantasizes obsessively about blonde girls. But on the day he falls in love at first sight with Father McMahon’s niece, the novel quickly spins into crisis as a stranger announces himself as Andy’s father and an anti-Christian mob descends on his hometown. The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa is a fascinating story about coming of age in a world damaged by Western colonialism, and announces Stephen Buoro as an exciting new voice in fiction.
By Anthony Koranda
For fans of Nelson Algren, be sure to add Anthony Koranda’s Broken Bottles to your to-read list. The novel follows Alex, a young man struggling to find his way among Chicago’s gritty gutters and lonely lakefront spaces after growing up with an alcoholic mother and intermittent stepfather. Noted as “an instant classic” by one of our favorite Chicago writers Joe Meno, this debut has the style and depth to live up to the distinction.
By Joe Milan Jr.
W.W. Norton & Company
Seventeen-year old Bucky Yi has his sights set on one all-American goal: to become a college football player. But when a misadventure with his adoptive family leads the U.S. government to deport him to South Korea, he’s forced to navigate an entirely foreign version of his life. Filled with intrigue, shadow-wars with North Korean spies, and deep reflections on family legacy, Joe Milan Jr.’s debut is a compelling read about finding one’s home—wherever that may be.
The Language of Trees: A Rewilding of Literature and Landscape
By Katie Holten
Tin House Books
The Language of Trees is an incredibly refreshing read about our love for language and nature. This beautifully illustrated and thoughtful collection features some of our most important literary icons such as Ursula K. Le Guin, Ada Limón, Zadie Smith, and more and their writings about the beauty of the world around us. A stunning celebration of trees through the ages, this book is sure to spark passion with every passing page.
The People Who Report More Stress
By Alejandro Varela
Why run from your anxieties when you can dig into Alejandro Varela’s latest short story collection, which is all about the stresses that modern life takes upon the body. The People Who Report More Stress has a deep understanding of the nature of work and the harm its inequities inflicts on people, from the restaurant worker struggling to support his family who turns to selling high-end designer clothes to his co-workers in order to move to the suburbs to a childcare worker who observes the comings and goings of an affluent co-op building. Funny, sexy, and highly neurotic, Varela captures an energy in his short stories that few other writers can.
Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma
By Claire Dederer
Knopf Publishing Group
Expanding upon her 2017 viral essay “What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men?” in Paris Review, Claire Dederer explores the knotty reality of how we make and experience art in the age of #MeToo and the link between genius and monstrosity. Can we love the work of Hemingway and Woody Allen? Should we love it? And does genius deserve special dispensation? There are no easy answers, and Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma offers more than enough insight and personal reflection for readers to chew on and discuss for months to come.
Diary of an Invasion
By Andrey Kurkov
Deep Vellum Publishing
Arriving just a few months after the one year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is Diary of an Invasion, a prescient collection of Andrey Kurkov’s writings and broadcasts from Kyiv. Kurkov, a longtime satirical commentator on his adopted country of Ukraine, collects his searing dispatches from the country and chronicles the sleepless nights of continuous bombardment of his city. An important work that should be on everyone’s radar.
By Brenda Cárdenas
Red Hen Press
New from former Milwaukee Poet Laureate Brenda Cárdenas is Trace, an electric collection of image-rich poems on the themes of migration, transcultural identity, loss, connection, dream, and aging. Even as Cardenas explores the feelings of displacement and mutability, her verse evokes a celebration of language, asking us to read aloud and share like entrancing music.
By Jacqueline Crooks
We’re highly anticipating Jacqueline Crooks’s Fire Rush here at the Chicago Review of Books, and it’s clear we’re not alone. The novel follows Yamaye, a London-based raver whose life changes forever when she meets a soulful carpenter named Moose. When violence devastates her life and her loved ones, she finds herself embarking on a journey that takes her to the Bristol underworld and, finally, to Jamaica. Fire Rush is a dramatic page-turner with a big heart and a careful eye toward the Jamaican diaspora, ranking it among some of the most gripping releases in recent memory.
Occupation: Organizer: A Critical History of Community Organizing in America
By Clément Petitjean
Chicago has a proud history of community organizing, so we’re thrilled to see this new incisive history on the subject coming out from one of our favorite local publishers Haymarket Books. In Occupation: Organizer, scholar and activist Clément Petitjean traces the history of community organizing from its roots in the Progressive Movement to modern day. Featuring detailed history on groups such as the Black Panthers, SNCC, and SDS as well as necessary critiques on the professionalization of organizing work, Petitjean has created an essential text that the next generation of organizers can turn to.
First Comes Summer
By Maria Hesselager
Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken
2023 has been a landmark year for works in translation, and among some of our favorites so far has been Maria Hesselager’s First Come Summer. This sparse and spellbinding novel follows a young woman’s dangerous passion as it plays out in a remote Viking settlement over the course of an eerie summer. Hesselager deft writing throughout this mysterious story continuously unsettles in the best way possible, prompting readers to lean in even as things spiral out of control.
Michael Welch is the Editor-In-Chief for the Chicago Review of Books. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Electric Lit, Iron Horse Literary Review, North American Review, and elsewhere. Find him at www.michaelbwelch.com and @MBWwelch.