Need some recommendations for your reading list? EW's Leah Greenblatt and Seija Rankin break down the best books of 2021's first half.

March Books to Read
Credit: Avid Reader Press / Simon + Schuster

Infinite Country by Patricia Engel

Infinite Country feels, frankly, like everything 2020's favorite literary lightning rod-slash-punching bag American Dirt was supposed to be: a raw, richly detailed immigration tale rooted in the beautiful specificities of real life. A young couple from Bogota, driven north by dreams of a better life, find harrowing truths and fractured family on both sides of the border. Patricia Engel (The Veins of the Ocean, Vida), born in America to Colombian parents, writes with deep empathy but also a novelist's keenly penetrating eye; her gaze misses nothing.  —Leah Greenblatt

Credit: Profile

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

The comma in the title of Torrey Peters' electric debut works both ways: It is indeed about detransition, baby — as in the reversal of gender identification — and also about, you know, an actual infant. Amy and Reese, both trans women, were once madly (maybe too madly) in love; now Amy, torn and overwhelmed, has become Ames again — and in the midst of struggling to acclimate back into a male body, accidentally impregnated his boss, Katrina. Can the three of them together forge a new kind of 21st-century family? Peters is too smart to offer easy answers, but Detransition, Baby's warmth and wit feel both familiar and utterly new: a tale of love, loss, and self-discovery as singular as it is universal, and all the sweeter for it. —Leah Greenblatt

Objects of Desire
Credit: Knopf

Objects of Desire by Clare Sestanovich

The protagonists in this great, lacerating collection — mostly women, mostly young — don't knowingly interconnect. But each seems to have reached some kind of inflection point, even if it's visible to no naked eye but their own: In "Security Questions," a drifting twentysomething has an affair with a much older man, with his architect wife's permission; in "Wants and Needs," another spends a fraught summer with the stepbrother she never quite had. Clare Sestanovich, an editor at The New Yorker, writes with a kind of bracing cold-plunge clarity that taps deep into the peculiar primal struggle of becoming who you are, and all the stories we tell ourselves to get there.  —Leah Greenblatt

Milk Fed: A Novel by Melissa Broder
Credit: Scribner

Milk Fed by Melissa Broder

If self-denial were a sport, Rachel, an aspiring standup comedian and half-hearted employee of an L.A. talent agency, could host her own Olympics. At 24, her life is centered on one objective: staying pathologically thin. Until the day she places her usual order (fat-free, no toppings please) at her frozen yogurt spot and is instead served a decadent sundae by Miriam, an Orthodox Jew whose cups runneth over in every way. The simple pleasure that Miriam takes in faith and family and the flesh that spills beyond her waistband like so many buttermilk biscuits is a revelation — and an erotic awakening, too, spun out in one of the strangest and sexiest novels so far this year. —Leah Greenblatt

March Books to Read
Credit: Little, Brown and Company

Acts of Desperation by Megan Nolan

Clever, damaged boy meets clever, damaged girl in contemporary Ireland; sexy complications ensue. It's no huge surprise that Acts of Desperation has already been called the next Normal People. What it probably shouldn't be called by any stretch is Nice People. Beautiful Ciaran, half-Danish and Nordicly cool, is withholding to the point of cruelty; the unnamed narrator who loves him comes across as far warmer, messier, and more, well, desperate to be loved. If Megan Nolan as a novelist weren't so supremely smart and self-aware, you might want to shake her wounded protagonist out of the bad romance she's willfully lashed herself to. Instead there's just the sharp kick of recognition, and sympathy.  —Leah Greenblatt

Crying in H Mart
Credit: Knopf

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

In 2018, Michelle Zauner — who also goes by her indie rock moniker Japanese Breakfast — penned an essay for The New Yorker about the ways in which the Korean grocery chain H Mart helped her cope with her mother's untimely cancer death. Three years later, she released the full-length version of Crying in H Mart and it became the must-read memoir for very good reason: Poignant, blisteringly honest, and generously vulnerable, Zauner's retelling of her family lore and the ways she pulled herself out of the brink of despair is impossible to put down. —Seija Rankin

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty
Credit: Doubleday

Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe

Patrick Radden Keefe's body of work doesn't seem, at first glance, the most accessible — his previous novel investigated the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and his most recent behemoth is a scathing (and meticulously reported) takedown of the extended family behind OxyContin and the root causes of the opioid crisis. But Keefe has a way of making the inaccessible incredibly digestible, of morphing complex stories into page-turning thrillers, and Empire of Pain lives out every promise inherent in the word exposé. If you're lucky enough not to have been personally touched by the opioid epidemic, the book feels like required empathy reading; if you're less fortunate, let it be a rallying cry.  —Seija Rankin

Credit: Penguin Random House

Girl A by Abigail Dean

Abigail Dean wastes no time diving into the wreckage of the Gracie clan in her bruising debut, the smartly layered story of six siblings whose claim to fame is that they've managed to survive childhood at all. Raised by religious zealots in a rural ruin the local British tabloids have dubbed the House of Horrors, eldest daughter Lex is the one who got away, literally. More than a dozen years on, she's become a model of recovery — if you squint; beneath the Brooklyn loft and busy career as a corporate lawyer, her psyche is still an open wound. Despite its deep vein of tension and a clever late-game twist, Girl A often reads more like a slow-burn character study, and richer for it. —Leah Greenblatt

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
Credit: Knopf

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

What if the most interesting man in the world was a woman? Marian Graves, the swashbuckling heroine of Maggie Shipstead's big sprawling doorstop of a novel, is "an odd, tall, dusty, freckled girl" for whom gender fluidity is a gift, used largely in service of living the untethered life she dreams of — one that will take her from certain death in the frigid mid-Atlantic circa 1914 to Prohibition-era Montana, battle-torn WWII Europe, the ice floes of Antarctica, and beyond. Arriving in a moment when our quarantined worlds had become so small — whole months measured not in continents or nautical miles but square inches of living room carpet — Great Circle offers more than just wanderlust; it feels like a liberation by proxy, too. —Leah Greenblatt

March Books to Read
Credit: 37 Ink

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton

An ebony-skinned girl from Detroit and a flame-haired British folkie come together in the New York music scene of the early 1970s; after two cult albums and a sudden tragedy, their brief moment fades — until a journalist with a deeply personal connection to their past decides to revisit the story. Like Taylor Jenkins Reid's enormously popular Daisy Jones & the Six, Dawnie Walton's debut novel uses oral history as the form for her kaleidoscopic tale, though she can hardly be contained by it. The book bursts with fourth-wall breaks and clear-eyed takes on race, sex, and creativity that Walton (a former EW staffer) unfurls in urgent, endlessly readable style.  —Leah Greenblatt

No One Is Talking About This: A Novel by Patricia Lockwood
Credit: Riverhead Books

No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

No One Is Talking About This is officially billed as a novel, though Lockwood — she of the viral poem "Rape Joke" and fantastically outré 2017 memoir Priestdaddy — is hardly the kind of writer to be held to form. Her latest, accordingly, comes on in a swirl of internet age irony and remove: less stream of consciousness than a series of small, heady whirlpools. But when its unnamed protagonist's sister gives birth to a baby with a rare genetic disorder, those surreal fragments of social-media flotsam and self-regard coalesce into something else: a story of real analog human feeling, both heartbreaking and stealthily profound. —Leah Greenblatt

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