Quick book picks for May

A new month means a whole new bunch of books coming out (probably more books than sun coming out, at least in the UK). To help you choose what to read, here are some of my favourites coming out this month, with quick summaries and links to reviews.

  • Little Gold by Allie Rogers – A moving and life-affirming tale of growing up different in Brighton in the 1980s.
  • House of Names by Colm Toíbín – A retelling of the House of Agamemnon in modern prose, with tense character relationships and intense revenge.
  • Girlhood by Cat Clarke – A fantastically tense YA novel about friendship and grief in a Scottish boarding school, with a gripping and funny narrative.
  • New Boy by Tracy Chevalier – The next in the Hogarth Shakespeare series is an unforgettable retelling of Othello in a single day in a Washington schoolyard.
  • Peculiar Ground by Lucy Hughes-Hallet – A time-spanning novel about changes and connections, set mostly in the grounds of an old house after the Restoration and during the Cold War.
  • The Nothing by Hanif Kureishi – A darkly comic and characteristic new novella from Hanif Kureishi, trapped in the head of an increasingly bed-bound aging filmmaker.
  • Man Alive by Thomas Page McBee – A powerful memoir of a trans man dealing with ideas of masculinity in the wake of violence.
  • I’ll Eat When I’m Dead by Barbara Bourland – The female-led modern version of 80s and 90s alternative American satirical fiction like American Psycho, exposing darkness in an industry full of drugs, sex, and battles for the top (review coming soon).
  • The Finding of Martha Lost by Caroline Wallace – An enchanting story about a sixteen-year-old girl who lives in Liverpool Lime Street station and has never known where she truly comes from.

Five Female-Character-Heavy Reads

When I asked for recommendation requests, a friend wanted books featuring a ‘pack of female characters doing stuff’. No problem, I thought. And then I looked through my Goodreads ‘read’ shelf. It turns out there are a lot of books I’ve read featuring one or two female characters doing things—together or separately—but a real lack of groups of them doing interesting things.

Leaving out Little Women and any of the teen fiction books I actually read when I was young, I’ve put together a list of books that are either general fiction or YA that fit the category. And have resolved to find more for the second version of this list. Links to longer reviews (if I’ve written them) from individual book titles.

  • Girlhood by Cat Clarke – Not out yet, but Girlhood has to go on my list because I read it recently and loved it. It centres around one female character and her group of friends at boarding school in Scotland, and what happens when a mysterious new girl appears and seems to have so much in common with one of them, down to the same tragedy. Clarke creates a tense narrative alongside an honest and and enjoyable version of teenage troubles like going to university, sexuality, and coping with grief.
  • The Stolen Child by Lisa Carey – A small community in an Irish island, mostly made up of women, deal with loss, a new stranger, and calls to leave their home for the safety of the mainland. A different interpretation of the request, but a book with a real range of female characters working together and apart.
  • Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson – A novel about the friendship between four girls living in Brooklyn in the 1970s and how they grew up, grew apart, and saw each other differently. The book is in a photographic style giving snapshots of memories and really getting across how friendship can be tied to time and place.
  • The Bomb Girls’ Secrets by Daisy Styles – I’ve included this one because it best fits the idea of female characters together doing things, in that it is a novel about young women coming together for the war effort, gradually getting closer and also forming a band. A light period read ideal for anyone who’d prefer something more historical than YA in the group of female characters category.
  • If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo – Russo’s YA novel about a trans girl starting a new school isn’t just about a group of female characters, but the friendship between Amanda and her new group of friends—each with their own secrets and problems—forms a crucial part of the book.

Girlhood by Cat Clarke

Sugar and spice and scars for life: Girlhood by Cat Clarke

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Girlhood is a dark and emotional YA novel about friendship, grief, and whether things are really as they seem. Harper goes to a boarding school in a remote part of Scotland, but she hasn’t always: before, she lived at home with her twin sister Jenna and her parents. After her sister’s death, however, she went to Duncraggan Academy and found a tight group of friends who have her back. When new girl Kirsty turns up, it seems like somebody might understand the secrets Harper keeps hidden. Kirsty is not quite as she seems, though, and Harper finds herself falling down a hole, unsure who she is anymore and what is true.

Clarke’s novel is gripping, exactly the kind to read in a day or two, devouring the narrative. It is full of emotional tension, dealing with teenage problems of all sizes whilst also having a thriller-like sense of mystery. Harper’s first person narration gives an insight into someone dealing with guilt and grief, and how these issues help to blind her to the lies that start to appear. The intense friendships throughout the novel feel very real and varied, showing how groups of friends can be very different people and still get along, whereas when somebody seems exactly the same, that may not be the case after all. Indeed, they are the kind of characters that make the reader want to continue reading after the words are over and find out what they do next as they grow up. Harper and her best friend Rowan’s relationship in particular was a highlight, showing how falling out doesn’t stop a person caring and how sometimes the stakes end up bigger than realised.

Girlhood is a fantastic novel, not only for teenagers but for anyone who enjoys books centred on tension and female friendships. It is incredibly difficult to put down and manages to deal with big issues in a light and often funny way whilst also having a darkly compulsive narrative.