Spring Reading: Five Books to Get You Into the Springtime Vibe
The spring season is generally associated with renewal, rebirth, and flourishing into the warmer and more energetic months of the year. As an avid mood reader, I love to pick books about second chances, identity exploration, and discovering self at this time of year. There’s just something about a good bildungsroman and a glass of iced lemonade in these balmy months, you know? Here are some books that I’ve read to get me into that springtime vibe.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
The House in the Cerulean Sea is narrated through the perspective of Linus Baker, a middle-aged caseworker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, which oversees children in government orphanages. His life is quiet until he’s suddenly summoned before Extremely Upper Management and given the highly classified assignment of investigating a home where six dangerous children – a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist – and their mysterious (and handsome) caretaker, Arthur Parnassus, reside.
Reading this book feels like coming home. Linus, Arthur, the kids, and a host of other characters are one of the most welcoming groups of characters I’ve ever read, and their story feels like a warm hug. This is a kind story about found family and love across differences, a story that I constantly come back to when I need a comfort read.
Gallant by V.E. Schwab
This book came out earlier this month but is one I’ve been anticipating since it was first announced last year. V.E. Schwab is one of my absolute favorite authors (and I would highly recommend anything she’s written), and this book did not disappoint. Although it is a much darker tale than other books on this list, it gives a lot of the same searching for family/self vibes in just a bit more shadowy of a setting.
Gallant is the tale of Olivia Prior, an orphan with no clues about her family except a beaten-up journal left by her mother with entries slowly spiraling into what seems like madness. Needless to say, she is surprised when one day she receives a letter from an uncle she’s never met, asking her to return home to Gallant. Upon her return, she is met with a tantalizing web of half-truths and mystery all leading to a dark secret looming over her family.
This is a book to read at night, by lamplight, with a blanket and a cup of something warm. It’s a book for those who felt or feel like they just need someone to listen, those who revel in details, those who sit and talk with their shadows.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo
I read this book as part of my spring reading this year. It was a book I’d seen on Bookstagram multiple times that I didn’t have a whole lot of context for, but had lots of positive reviews. I was pleasantly surprised to find an intricate queer historical fiction, one that I wish I’d had when I was first realizing my own queerness.
The story is mostly told from the perspective of Lily Hu, a Chinese American teenager in high school, but also briefly switches through the perspectives of some of her close relatives. It is set in the 1950s in San Francisco, right in the middle of the Red Scare and a lot of anti-Chinese sentiment. In the middle of this social climate, while also navigating friendships and family tension, Lily sparks a friendship with Kathleen Miller, a girl who seems to understand the question Lily feels rooted in her chest, one she is too scared to ask out loud, one that begins to be answered when she and Kath walk into the smoky, dimly lit haven of a lesbian bar, the Telegraph Club.
This book had my heart from the start and was a beautiful contribution to my spring break that I read in one sitting. As one of the reviews on its cover said, “This is a book for anyone who has loved, in any sense of the word,” and I stand by that.
Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sakegawa
I picked up Sweet Bean Paste by chance at a Kinokuniya bookstore near my house. The soft blue cover drew my eyes to it, and when I plucked it off the shelf, all I could think was “this looks like it’ll give me some serotonin.” And it sure as hell did – but it was so much more complex than that.
This novel is written from the perspective of Sentaro, a dorayaki (a type of pancake filled with sweet bean paste) cook at a small confectionery, with little but a criminal record and a dream of becoming a writer. He lives a monotonous and rather lonely life. That is until he meets Tokue, an elderly woman with disfigured hands and a talent for making sweet bean paste. Begrudgingly, he hires her, but over time they begin to become friends.
Coming into this book, I was expecting a charming story of friendship and the joy of dedicating oneself to learning a craft. What I was not expecting was the deep social commentary around ableism, the devastating effects of rumors, and the tears (man did I cry). Sakegawa beautifully navigates how the past can weigh on people’s present lives in a myriad of ways, but also how friendship can heal those wounds.
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Akata Witch is the first of the Nsibidi Scripts series by Nnedi Okorafor. It follows the story of Sunny, who lives in Nigeria but was born in America, and who is also albino. She feels ostracized from her classmates and is bullied constantly by them. Sunny feels like there’s nowhere she fits in until she discovers that she is a “free agent” (a type of witch) with magical power. She’s soon immersed into the world of the free agents, a whimsical and intense community, where she quickly makes friends and learns more about herself and her abilities. Her story continues in Akata Warrior and Akata Woman.
I absolutely adore this book, with its complex grappling with identity and community, diaspora, kinship, and agency. This journey of discovery left me feeling like a kid in awe of every new detail, every new corner of this world that introduced itself. Okorafor weaves snippets from free agent texts into her storytelling, as well as intriguing magical objects, multilingual preteens, fun transportation, and giant grasshoppers, to create a rich Nigerian fantasy world that is absolutely unforgettable.