From a sparkling debut to the latest from a literary icon, there's much to recommend in EW's April book review column.

By Mary Sollosi and David Canfield
April 03, 2020 at 03:52 PM EDT
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Catapult; Algonquin; Hub City Press

This month, EW reviews the debut novel of Chelsea Bieker, the long-awaited return to adult fiction from Julia Alvarez, and a breakout period piece by Carter Sickels. Read on for our takes.

The Prettiest Star, by Carter Sickels

Death isn't a distant rumor for the young in New York's queer scene circa 1986, and particularly not for Brian, a 24-year-old grieving the loss of his partner and friends. Dying of AIDS himself, he decides to return to Chester, Ohio, the place he fled just six years earlier, to be with the family that has never accepted him.

A brutally fresh kind of homecoming novel, The Prettiest Star weaves between resentment and redemption in its unvarnished portrait of ignorance and cruelty. Brian is, indeed, hardly welcomed back with open arms; he is scorned by his community, banned from public pools, and threatened in forms both visceral and ominous. But Carter Sickels (The Evening Hour), often writing in the voices of Brian's tormented mother and sister, searches for a softer story, too, and a kind of dignity in death that's not pretty, maybe, but is surely human. —David Canfield

Grade: A-

Godshot, by Chelsea Bieker

In the barren wasteland of Peaches, Calif., water is precious, but blood runs thick. Lacey May's troubled family devotedly follows an enigmatic pastor who promises to bring rain to their devastated town, but she uncovers sinister truths about the cult after her mom deserts her. Drawn in brilliant, bizarre detail — baptisms in warm soda, wisdom from romance novels — Lacey's twin crises of faith and femininity tangle powerfully. Fiercely written and endlessly readable, a novel like this is a godsend. —Mary Sollosi

Grade: A-

Afterlife, by Julia Alvarez

The In the Time of the Butterflies icon makes a satisfying and long-awaited return to adult fiction with this kind tale of grief and sisterhood. Treading familiar themes and maintaining a loose, fragmentary structure, Julia Alvarez follows recently widowed Antonia, a retired poet worrying over her sister's disappearance yet finding meaning and mystery in her dynamic with an undocumented pregnant woman who needs her help. The author doesn't break any new ground but does settle into a deeply poignant groove. —D.C.

Grade: B

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