Rufi Thorpe doubles down on coming of age, while Emily Gould explores the bond between mother and daughter.

By David Canfield and Leah Greenblatt
April 22, 2020 at 11:00 AM EDT
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Avid Reader Press / Simon and Schuster; Knopf

The Knockout Queen, by Rufi Thorpe

Michael is poor and gay and vaguely goth; Bunny is the sporty blond Amazon who lives in the marbled McMansion next door. They have nothing in common, really, except that they’re neighbors — and that neither quite fits into the moneyed conformity of Southern California’s North Shore. So they spend hours talking about boys and dreams and Drag Race and wait impatiently to graduate. But when the social Darwinism of high school takes a darker turn, their unlikely friendship is more than tested.

Through Michael’s clear-eyed gaze, Rufi Thorpe (The Girls From Corona del Mar) unfurls a coming-of-age tale that feels both fresh and familiar: a shrewd exploration of all the ways people find to pass on the hurt and anger they’ve been given and a tender, furious ode to the connections that somehow still endure, despite everything. —Leah Greenblatt

Grade: A-

Perfect Tunes, by Emily Gould

Emily Gould is a great novelist, a fact that got a bit lost in the frenzy surrounding her 2014 debut, Friendship (on her tour, she spoke at length about an evening spent with Lena Dunham, leading to a very public falling-out), and that inconsistently emerges in her latest, a tale of women, music, and choices. The first half is a treat, layered in grimy pre-9/11 NYC nostalgia, as aspiring musician Laura, 22, moves to the city and falls for Dylan, a sexy, troubled drummer.

In the tenuous bond between Laura and her buoyant roommate Callie, Gould finds a familiar groove, and her spiky affection for New York could sustain a whole book’s worth of asides on cramped studios, scrappy artists, and thwarted ambition. But Gould’s got more on her mind. The world changes; Laura makes sacrifices in prep for a life in motherhood. The final act lacks emotional pull, a structural gambit that’s thematically rich but never quite in tune. —David Canfield

Grade: B

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