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.

Little Gold by Allie Rogers

Growing up different in the 1980s: Little Gold by Allie Rogers

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Little Gold is a moving and tense novel about growing up, facing difficulties, and finding the words for problems. Set in Brighton in 1982, it shows a tough summer for Little Gold – who has cast off her too girlish name and is teased by other kids for being weird. She has left middle school, her dad is gone, and her mum will barely get out of bed. Her older brother and sister are caught in their own problems, but when she becomes friends with Peggy Baxter, the old woman from down the road, she finds a place to escape to. When things get even worse, Little Gold has to find a way to tell somebody what is going on before it is too late, but she might not have words to say it.

In Little Gold, Rogers has created a fantastic character, a girl on the brink of adolescence and trying to deal with being different. Much of the narrative is from her point of view and the style gets inside her head, leaving the reader tensely hoping that better will come for her. Peggy’s chapters are slower to get into, but as soon as her backstory starts to be revealed they become more gripping, with the visit of her former lover Vi a particularly touching part, especially when Little Gold joins them. The dark, abusive threat at the heart of the novel is carefully written, not for shock effect, but as part of a narrative showing how those in need of protection can be exploited and how problems can all become entangled.

This is a novel that touches upon a lot of issues, held together by an enchanting main character whose struggles with knowing who she is as she grows up are moving and relatable. Rogers creates an oppressive atmosphere showing the limits of being both young and old, a world where it is the middle aged adults who are the threat or let down, but also a positive novel that affirms that being different is okay and that friend and family connections can help even at the darkest times.