If You’re Going to Read One Book In May, Make It This One

published May 3, 2021
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Warmer weather is finally here and it’s the ideal time of year — not too hot, not too cold — to find a comfortable outdoor spot and cozy up with a new book. Try some of May’s best new book releases to help fill your days with sun and plenty of exceptional literature. 

One book to take special note of this month: “Things We Lost to the Water,” Eric Nguyen’s debut novel. Nguyen’s story spans three decades and chronicles the lives of a Vietnamese refugee family who flee to the U.S. “Things We Lost to the Water” is a lustrous portrait of first and second-generation immigrant life in America — full of joy, sorrow, secrets, and deceits — and showcases one family’s desire to survive in life and with each other. 

The novel starts with a pregnant Huong arriving in 1979 New Orleans alongside her young son. She traveled without her husband, Cong, who is still in Vietnam, and Huong is jobless, disoriented, and without a home. After settling into an apartment building filled with other Vietnamese refugees, she’s hopeful that she will soon reunite with her husband, and so Huong begins sending tapes and letters back to Cong in Vietnam. However, she soon realizes that Cong will not be joining them in the U.S., and while Huong tries to come to terms with his absence, her two sons, Tuan and Binh, must grow up without their father. 

Nguyen’s powerful and moving debut touches on immigration, racism, finding one’s identity — both as a family and an individual — and what brings people together (and pushes them apart). 

Here are some other great reading options this month:

The bestselling author of “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Paper Towns,” and “Turtles All the Way Down” is back, this time with a collection of personal essays that examine the multiple sides of contemporary humanity. It’s Green’s first nonfiction book, and its essays are adapted from his podcast of the same name where he reviews everything from air conditioning to love at first sight, viral meningitis to the seed potatoes of Leningrad. If you’ve been a fan of “The Anthropocene Reviewed” podcast, you won’t have to worry about repeated content — while the book will feature old essays, it contains plenty of new ones, too. 

Another release from a popular author, and what might be one of the most anticipated books of the spring (TJR fans have been geeking out on bookstgram for months), is Taylor Jenkins Reid’s “Malibu Rising.” In this novel from the “New York Times” bestselling author of “Daisy Jones & The Six,” it’s August 1983 in Malibu, and the four famous Rivas siblings — Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kit — are gearing up for Nina’s epic annual end-of-summer party. The party ends up totally out of control, and by morning, the Riva mansion has burned to the ground, and generations of secrets have reared their ugly heads. One reader on Goodreads called it “The Great Gatsby meets Little Fires Everywhere.” The novel is messy, scandalous, entertaining, and fast-paced, like a reality show on paper. 

This is not an easy read, but it’s an important one. “My Time Will Come” is the story of Ian Manuel’s journey, from growing up homeless in a Tampa, Florida neighborhood riddled with poverty, gang violence, and drug abuse, to his attempt to overcome those circumstances and his subsequent time in the American prison system. Manuel struggles to obtain freedom after receiving an unfit lifetime prison sentence for a crime he committed as a 13-year-old. Eventually, after spending two-thirds of his life in jail (eighteen of those years were spent in solitary confinement), Manuel is released with the help of Bryan Stevenson and his team of lawyers at The Equal Justice Initiative. This is a harsh and honest look at the problematic and disturbing U.S. criminal justice system.