Our picks for the best books of June include everything from Blake Crouch’s latest sci-fi thriller to Nicole Dennis-Benn’s powerful sophomore novel. Exploring everything from taxidermy to opioid dependence to creativity, these eight books (listed in order of release date) deliver entertaining reads you don’t want to miss this summer.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
Release Date: June 4th from Riverhead Books
Why You’ll Love It: Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest novel is a love story, a lust story, a war story, a theater story and a rollicking coming-of-age story that becomes so much more. —Bridey Heing
(Read Paste’s full review of the novel here.)
Description: In 1940, 19-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer and a no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Now 89 and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life—and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it.
Leaving the Witness by Amber Scorah
Release Date: June 4th from Viking
Why You’ll Love It: Amber Scorah’s enthralling memoir chronicles her youth as a Jehovah’s Witness and her journey to leave the faith.
Description: A third-generation Jehovah’s Witness, Amber Scorah had devoted her life to sounding God’s warning of impending Armageddon. She volunteered to take the message to China, where the preaching she did was illegal and could result in her expulsion or worse. Here, she had some distance from her community for the first time. Immersion in a foreign language and culture—and a whole new way of thinking—turned her world upside down, and eventually led her to lose all that she had been sure was true. Shunned by family and friends as an apostate, Scorah was alone in Shanghai and thrown into a world she had only known from the periphery—with no education or support system. A coming-of-age story of a woman already in her thirties, this unforgettable memoir examines what it’s like to start one’s life over again with an entirely new identity.
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett
Release Date: June 4th from Tin House Books
Why You’ll Love It: Kristen Arnett’s debut novel delivers a family drama that’s as weirdly wonderful as it is captivating.
Description: One morning, Jessa-Lynn Morton walks into the family taxidermy shop to find that her father has committed suicide, right there on one of the metal tables. Shocked and grieving, Jessa steps up to manage the failing business, while the rest of the Morton family crumbles. Her mother starts sneaking into the shop to make aggressively lewd art with the taxidermied animals. Her brother Milo withdraws, struggling to function. And Brynn, Milo’s wife—and the only person Jessa’s ever been in love with—left years before without a word. As Jessa seeks out less-than-legal ways of generating income, her mother’s art escalates—picture a figure of her dead husband and a stuffed buffalo in an uncomfortably sexual pose—and the Mortons reach a tipping point. For the first time, Jessa has no choice but to learn who these people truly are and how she fits alongside them.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Release Date: June 4th from Penguin Press
Why You’ll Love It: Ocean Vuong’s lyrical novel tackles everything from addiction to trauma to first love, beginning with a quiet fire and building to a powerful conclusion
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born—a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam—and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class and masculinity.
Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn
Release Date: June 4th from Liveright
Why You’ll Love It: Nicole Dennis-Benn’s sophomore novel is just as moving as her award-winning debut, weaving a story about family, sexuality and dreams.
(Read Paste’s full review of the novel here.)
Description: When Patsy gets her long-coveted visa to America, it comes after years of yearning to leave Pennyfield, the beautiful but impoverished Jamaican town where she was raised. More than anything, Patsy wishes to be reunited with her oldest friend, Cicely, whose letters arrive from New York steeped in the promise of a happier life and the possible rekindling of their young love. But Patsy’s plans don’t include her overzealous, evangelical mother—or even her five-year-old daughter, Tru.
Patsy leaves Tru behind in a defiant act of self-preservation, hoping for a new start where she can be, and love, whomever she wants. But when Patsy arrives in Brooklyn, America is not as Cicely’s treasured letters described; to survive as an undocumented immigrant, she is forced to work as a bathroom attendant and nanny. Meanwhile, Tru builds a faltering relationship with her father back in Jamaica, grappling with her own questions of identity and sexuality, trying desperately to empathize with her mother’s decision.
Recursion by Blake Crouch
Release Date: June 11th from Crown
Why You’ll Love It: Blake Crouch’s sci-fi thriller will keep you riveted, delivering another intelligent read you’ll want to devour in a day.
Memory makes reality. That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived. Neuroscientist Helena Smith already understands the power of memory; it’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious moments of our pasts. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent. But as Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena will stand a chance at defeating it.
Broken Places & Outer Spaces by Nnedi Okorafor
Release Date: June 18th from TED Books
Why You’ll Love It: Nnedi Okorafor’s writing is always a must-read, and this slim nonfiction volume begs to be read multiple times for its wisdom.
Description: Nnedi Okorafor was never supposed to be paralyzed. A college track star and budding entomologist, Nnedi’s lifelong battle with scoliosis was just a bump in her plan—something a simple operation would easily correct. But when Nnedi woke up from the surgery to find she couldn’t move her legs, her entire sense of self began to waver. In Broken Places & Outer Spaces, Nnedi takes the reader on a journey from her hospital bed deep into her memories, from her painful first experiences with racism as a child in Chicago to her powerful visits to her parents’ hometown in Nigeria. From Frida Kahlo to Mary Shelly, she examines great artists and writers who have pushed through their limitations, using hardship to fuel their work. Through these compelling stories and her own, Nnedi reveals a universal truth: What we perceive as limitations have the potential to become our greatest strengths—far greater than when we were unbroken.
In Pain by Travis Rieder
Release Date: June 18th from Harper
Why You’ll Love It: Bioethicist Travis Rieder uses his own experience with opioid dependence to powerfully highlight how the American healthcare system needs to reform its approach to pain management.
Description: Travis Rieder’s terrifying journey down the rabbit hole of opioid dependence began with a motorcycle accident in 2015. Enduring half a dozen surgeries, the drugs he received were both miraculous and essential to his recovery. But his most profound suffering came several months later when he went into acute opioid withdrawal while following his physician’s orders. His experience exposes a dark secret of American pain management: a healthcare system so conflicted about opioids, and so inept at managing them, that the crisis currently facing us is both unsurprising and inevitable. As he recounts his story, Rieder explores both the science of addiction and the systemic and cultural barriers we must overcome if we are to address the problem effectively in the contemporary American healthcare system.