Most of us would give an arm for the chance to live at and run a winery, but Ingrid, the protagonist of Katherine Taylor's Valley Fever, has always wanted to get away. When a breakup leaves her homeless, she's forced to return to her hometown of Fresno, where her aging parents are suffering from all kinds of financial woes, and not only the grapes need tending. Taylor's writing is witty, sharp, and full of raw emotion, getting to the core of Ingrid's heartbreak, and exploring her journey to come to terms with her past and find her place again at home.
A young woman's family woes are also at the heart of Asali Solomon's Disgruntled, which tells the story of Kenya, a West Philadelphia fourth-grader in the late '80s. Though her classmates, like her, are also black, Kenya's fiercely intellectual father bars her from eating bologna or saying the Pledge of Allegiance, earning her torment at school. As Kenya grows older and navigates her way through an all-girls' prep school, her story highlights the inner struggles of being black in America, and examines how shame can worsen the challenges of adolescence. But Solomon's book isn't a polemic: it's funny, accessible, and thought-provoking, with clean, lucid prose.
Everyone has a bizarre former job or two buried in their work history, but Brandon Christopher has over 80—and he's only in his early 40s. In his memoir The Job Pirate, he explains some of the more esoteric gigs he's held, from driving a hearse to copy-editing a gay porn magazine. But it's his exploration of more workaday jobs, like cashiering, assisting a plumber, and driving a moving truck, that proves surprisingly illuminating. If you've ever hated a job, this book will definitely have you nodding in sympathy.
Appearances: Green Apple Books (Clement), 6/16