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The Mary Sue Book Club, March 2023: Powerful Magic, Sensational Secrets, & Public Policy

Some of these books may look familiar.

Three books in the March 2023 edition of The Mary Sue Book Club.

After two fairly neatly-themed months of The Mary Sue Book Club, we’re back to a mix of stories that have very little in common. Well, except that they overlap with the many interests of TMS readers!

Some of these books may look familiar. We’ve featured about half of them on our most anticipated books and comics lists at the start of the year. Below, there are three non-fiction stories: one gorgeous graphic novel memoir, one “big bitch manifesto,” and one about … urban planning. Yeah, that last one sounds weird. However, unless you’ve never been on an extended vacation or lived in a radically different place, you probably realize how that mundane-sounding concept affects our lives everywhere. In fiction, we have an intimate family saga, a paranormal romance, and a fable in the form of a novella. All but two of these featured books also come from debut authors!

What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez by Claire Jimenez

What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez by Claire Jimenez. Image: Grand Central Publishing.
(Grand Central Publishing)

The Ramirez women of Staten Island orbit around absence. When thirteen-year-old middle child Ruthy disappeared after track practice without a trace, it left the family scarred and scrambling. One night, twelve years later, oldest sister Jessica spots a woman on her TV screen in Catfight, a raunchy reality show. She rushes to tell her younger sister, Nina: This woman’s hair is dyed red, and she calls herself Ruby, but the beauty mark under her left eye is instantly recognizable. Could it be Ruthy, after all this time?

The years since Ruthy’s disappearance haven’t been easy on the Ramirez family. It’s 2008, and their mother, Dolores, still struggles with the loss, Jessica juggles a newborn baby with her hospital job, and Nina, after four successful years at college, has returned home to medical school rejections and is forced to work in the mall folding tiny bedazzled thongs at the lingerie store.

After seeing maybe-Ruthy on their screen, Jessica and Nina hatch a plan to drive to where the show is filmed in search of their long-lost sister. When Dolores catches wind of their scheme, she insists on joining, along with her pot-stirring holy roller best friend, Irene. What follows is a family road trip and reckoning that will force the Ramirez women to finally face the past and look toward a future—with or without Ruthy in it.

Release date: March 7.

Fat Off, Fat On: A Big Bitch Manifesto by Clarkisha Kent

Fat Off, Fat On: A Big Bitch Manifesto by Clarkisha Kent. Image: Feminist Press.
(Feminist Press)

There was no easy way for Kent to navigate personal discovery and self-love. As a dark-skinned, first-generation American facing a myriad of mental health issues and intergenerational trauma, at times Kent’s body felt like a cosmic punishment. In the face of body dysmorphia, homophobia, anti-Blackness, and respectability politics, the pursuit of “high self-esteem” seemed oxymoronic. Fat Off, Fat On: A Big Bitch Manifesto is a humorous, at times tragic, memoir that follows Kent on her journey to realizing that her body is a gift to be grown into, that sometimes family doesn’t always mean home, and how even ill-fated bisexual romances could free her from gender essentialism.

Perfect for readers of Keah Brown’s The Pretty One, Alida Nugent’s You Don’t Have to Like Me, and Stephanie Yeboah’s Fattily Ever After, Kent’s debut explores her own lived experiences to illuminate how fatphobia intertwines with other oppressions. It stresses the importance of addressing the violence scored upon our minds and our bodies, and how we might begin the difficult—but joyful—work of setting ourselves free.

Release date: March 7. (Also, the day our interview with her will release on the site!)

In Limbo: A Graphic Memoir by Deb Jj Lee

In Limbo by Deb Jj Lee. Image: First Second.
(First Second)

CW: suicide attempt

Ever since Deborah (Jung-Jin) Lee emigrated from South Korea to the United States, she’s felt her otherness.

For a while, her English wasn’t perfect. Her teachers can’t pronounce her Korean name. Her face and her eyes—especially her eyes—feel wrong.

In high school, everything gets harder. Friendships change and end, she falls behind in classes, and fights with her mom escalate. Caught in limbo, with nowhere safe to go, Deb finds her mental health plummeting, resulting in a suicide attempt.

But Deb is resilient and slowly heals with the help of art and self-care, guiding her to a deeper understanding of her heritage and herself.

This stunning debut graphic memoir features page after page of gorgeous, evocative art, perfect for Tillie Walden fans.

Release date: March 7.

Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai

Bitter Medicine by Mia Tsai.
(Tachyon Publications)

As a descendant of the Chinese god of medicine, ignored middle child Elle was destined to be a doctor. Instead, she is underemployed as a mediocre magical calligrapher at the fairy temp agency. Nevertheless, she challenges herself by covertly outfitting Luc, her client and crush, with high-powered glyphs.

Half-elf Luc, the agency’s top security expert, has his own secret: he’s responsible for a curse laid from an old assignment. To heal them, he’ll need to perform his job duties with unrelenting excellence and earn time off from his tyrannical boss. When Elle saves Luc’s life, they begin a dangerous collaboration, but their chemistry blooms. Happiness, for once, is an option for them both. But Elle is loyal to her family, and Luc is bound by his true name. To win freedom from duty, they must make unexpected sacrifices.

Release date: March 13.

The Lies of The Ajungo by Moses Ose Utomi

The Lies of The Ajungo by Moses Ose Utomi.
(Tordotcom)

In the City of Lies, they cut out your tongue when you turn thirteen, to appease the terrifying Ajungo Empire and make sure it continues sending water. Tutu will be thirteen in three days, but his parched mother won’t last that long. So Tutu goes to his oba and makes a deal: she provides water for his mother, and in exchange he will travel out into the desert and bring back water for the city. Thus begins Tutu’s quest for the salvation of his mother, his city, and himself.

The Lies of the Ajungo opens the curtains on a tremendous world, and begins the epic fable of the Forever Desert. With every word, Moses Ose Utomi weaves magic.

Release date: March 21

Carmageddon: How Cars Make Life Worse & What to Do About It by Daniel Knowles

Carmageddon: How Cars Make Life Worse & What to Do About It by Daniel Knowles.
(Abrams Press)

The automobile was one of the most miraculous inventions of the 20th century. It promised freedom, style, and utility. But sometimes, rather than improving our lives, technology just makes everything worse. Over the past century, cars have filled the air with toxic pollutants and fueled climate change. Cars have stolen public space and made our cities uglier, dirtier, less useful, and more unequal. Cars have caused tens of millions of deaths and injuries. They have wasted our time and our money.

In Carmageddon, journalist Daniel Knowles outlines the rise of the automobile and the costs we all bear as a result. Weaving together history, economics, and reportage, Knowles traces the forces and decisions that normalized cars and cemented our reliance on them. He takes readers around the world to show the ways car use has impacted people’s lives—from Nairobi, where few people own a car but the city is still cloaked in smog; to Houston, where the Katy Freeway has a mind-boggling 26 lanes and there are 30 parking spaces for every resident, enough land to fit Paris ten times. With these negatives, Knowles shows that there are better ways to live, looking at Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Tokyo, and New York City.

Release date: March 28.

Honorable Mentions

Before leaving, I wanted to shout out some honorable mentions. One is Museum of Mistakes by Julia Wertz. While this book will feature a new-to-readers volume, it’s technically an older book that’s being reprinted. Additionally, you must check out Mimosa by Archi Bongiovanni. Abrams ComicArts provided a sneak peek to our readers and connected me with Bongiovanni to discuss the themes of their work and their creative process.

Which of these are you most excited to check out? Let us know in the comments if we missed a (non-sequel) book you’ve been waiting for!

(Featured image: Feminist Press, Tachyon Publications, and Abrams Press.)

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(she/her) Award-winning artist and blogger with experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time watching movies, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Balder's Gate 3, Apex Legends, and CS:GO.