If You’re Only Going to Read One Novel in September, Make It This One

updated Sep 2, 2020
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

September is a month of new beginnings, including tackling unread books. It’s tough to narrow it down to just one, but the most buzz-worthy book this month has to be “Transcendent Kingdom” by Yaa Gyasi.

You may have read her debut novel, “Homegoing,” which was widely regarded as a masterpiece. Some say “Transcendent Kingdom” flexes even more of Gyasi’s immense talent.

Transcendent Kingdom” follows Gifty, a PhD candidate in neuroscience  at the Stanford School of Medicine, who carries the weight of her brother Nana’s fatal heroin overdose and her mother’s attempted suicide. She pours all of her focus on lab mice, performing restraint and reward experiments on them, yearning and pushing and fighting for answers. 

Gifty’s family, who are Ghanian immigrants, settle in Alabama. Their journey to what Gifty’s mother believes is greatness seems to be the family’s undoing. Gifty’s father, who she refers to as Chin Chin man, doesn’t take to the South, and one day he packs his bags, informing his family that he’s taking a trip to Ghana—one that becomes permanent, as neither Gifty, Nana, or their mother ever see him again. Meanwhile, Nana is the golden boy, the star athlete in school whose future is so bright, it’s blinding—even major colleges start poaching him to play for their teams. But one day, Nana suffers a sports-related injury and is prescribed OxyContin, which he becomes addicted to. His addiction deepens and and grows more desperate, and try (and pray) as they might, Gifty and her mom fail to save Nana. 

The sophomore novel beautifully and sorrowfully examines mental health, faith, and coping with loss through the lens of a Black immigrant woman who feels an enormous pressure to fix the seemingly unfixable. Gifty cannot bring her brother back from the dead, and it becomes exceedingly harder to rescue her mother from the depths of depression. As she searches for answers, she learns a new way forward. 

Here are some other great reads that are worthy of adding to your cart this month:

Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen

You may have read former Buzzfeed writer Anne Helen Petersen’s brilliant essay, “How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation,” which examined why this particular generation is so fixated on the hustle and grind, and yet, are cruelly punished for it in memes and think pieces. “Can’t Even” expands upon this essay, diving into the toxicity of ambition and the pressures to find “cool” jobs that end up underpaying and taking advantage of their young and eager employees’ work ethic.

Although Petersen wrote this before the pandemic, candidly talking about burnout culture that has now been impacted by two recessions, it’s more timely than ever.

Fifty Words for Rain by Asha Lemmie

In her debut novel, “Fifty Words for Rain,” Asha Lemmie paints a heart-wrenching coming-of-age story that spans decades and across several continents. It starts with a young Noriko “Nori” Kamiza, the illegitimate child of an upper class Japanese woman and Black soldier, who suffers the consequences of her biracial identity in the post-World War II era.

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

Elena Ferrante, the beautiful brain behind the Neapolitan Novels book series, has given us another woman-led story to get submerged in. In “The Lying Life of Adults,” Giovanna is introduced as a thirteen-year-old who lives in the well-to-do upper city of Naples in the ‘90s. She transforms from being the embodiment of the perfect young teen any parent would dream of having to a rebellious young woman.