Eighth grader Eulabee’s best friend is the striking and confident Maria Fabiola. Until one day she isn’t—they have a falling-out as preteen girls tend to do. Eulabee is both ostracized by Maria and the group of middle schoolers she ringleads. For months they don’t speak. Then the police knock on Eulabee’s door—Maria, they say, is missing. Part coming-of-age story, part mystery, and part cultural reflection on San Francisco during the 1980s (telltale time references include mayor Dianne Feinstein and The Breakfast Club), We Run the Tides captures the pain that comes with the slow erosion of childhood friendships and the innocence they entail. And perhaps more significantly: Often, we never really know someone even if we think we do. —Elise Taylor
My Year Abroad is an extraordinary book, acrobatic on the level of the sentence, symphonic across its many movements—and this is a book that moves: from the quaint, manicured town of Dunbar (hard not to read as a Princeton stand-in, where the author taught at the university for many years); to buzzing Shenzhen; to a Chinese bazillionaire’s compound, governed by a particularly barbaric modern feudalism; back to a landlocked American exurban town deemed Stagno, where the protagonist (the appropriately named, rudderless Tiller) has shacked up with a 30-something woman and her savant kid, both of whom are hunkering down because they’re quite probably part of the witness protection program. For all the self-proclaimed ordinariness of its protagonist, My Year Abroad is a wild ride—a caper, a romance, a bildungsroman, and something of a satire of how to get filthy rich in rising Asia. This isn’t a book that skates through its many disparate-seeming scenes, but rather unites them in the heartfelt adventure of its protagonist, who begins his year “abroad” as a foreign land to himself and arrives at something like belonging by the end of his story. —Chloe Schama
There’s a particular pain to reading Gay Bar—a complex work in which author Jeremy Atherton Lin sets out to chronicle the gay clubs and bars of his youth in order to tell the story of LGBTQ+ spaces more broadly—during a pandemic, when queer nightspots are shuttering with no hope of government assistance. For that reason, though, Gay Bar is an essential read in 2021, especially for those who might be unfamiliar with the cultural and historical significance of the “gay bar.” Hopefully, appropriately mourning the queer spaces we’ve lost to gentrification, police violence, the AIDS crisis, and the simple passage of time can serve as a ritual to honor the significance of those spots. —Emma Specter
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