'We Don’t Swim Here' by Vincent Tirado, 'Yellowface' by RF Kuang, and 'Grand Slam Romance' by Ollie Hicks, Emma Oosterhous.

The Mary Sue Book Club, May 2023: The Books We’ve Been Waiting For

At the start of the year, I compiled two lists of the most anticipated titles of 2023. One list consists of graphic novels and manga, and another of books. A number of these titles publish in May—including four dropping today! However, that didn’t make it that much easier to narrow down our picks this month.

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The final lists include a number of books that feature topics like hidden Black history, the prison industrial complex, female rage, and the whiteness of publishing. (The latter in satire format from a beloved fantasy writer.) However, the list doesn’t just feature not all serious books and thrillers. There’s a newly translated visual novel that will guarantee to crack a smile. Additionally, a familiar author co-created a very queer and very magical graphic novel centered around softball.

Clytemnestra by Costanza Casati

Clytemnestra by Costanza Casati.
(Sourcebooks Landmark)

As for queens, they are either hated or forgotten. She already knows which option suits her best…

You were born to a king, but you marry a tyrant. You stand by helplessly as he sacrifices your child to placate the gods. You watch him wage war on a foreign shore, and you comfort yourself with violent thoughts of your own. Because this was not the first offence against you. This was not the life you ever deserved. And this will not be your undoing. Slowly, you plot.

But when your husband returns in triumph, you become a woman with a choice.

Acceptance or vengeance, infamy follows both. So, you bide your time and force the gods’ hands in the game of retribution. For you understood something long ago that the others never did.

If power isn’t given to you, you have to take it for yourself.

Release date: May 2. Read our review of the novel here.

Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. Image: Pantheon Books.
(Pantheon Books)

Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” Stacker are the stars of Chain-Gang All-Stars, the cornerstone of CAPE, or Criminal Action Penal Entertainment, a highly-popular, highly-controversial, profit-raising program in America’s increasingly dominant private prison industry. It’s the return of the gladiators and prisoners are competing for the ultimate prize: their freedom.

In CAPE, prisoners travel as Links in Chain-Gangs, competing in death-matches for packed arenas with righteous protestors at the gates. Thurwar and Staxxx, both teammates and lovers, are the fan favorites. And if all goes well, Thurwar will be free in just a few matches, a fact she carries as heavily as her lethal hammer. As she prepares to leave her fellow Links, she considers how she might help preserve their humanity, in defiance of these so-called games, but CAPE’s corporate owners will stop at nothing to protect their status quo and the obstacles they lay in Thurwar’s path have devastating consequences.

Release date: May 2.

20 KM/H by Woshibai

20 KM/H by Woshibai. Image: Drawn & Quarterly.
(Drawn & Quarterly)

How fast can you go in a buggy drawn by the flap of a butterfly’s wings? How do you measure the speed of waking from a dream? Such abstract inquiries into the unrelenting absurdity of contemporary life make up this omnibus of meditative vignettes from one of mainland China’s most prolific and recognizable—yet anonymous—new underground cartoonists of the current generation.

Every story in 20 km/h toes the line between pun and poetry, and lands somewhere just short of a zen koan: Come back to it as often as you like, it will never read quite the same way twice. A nondescript figure awakes from an assembly line of identically fashioned companions and boards a rowboat destined for the unknown. A man holds the key to sleep in his hand and uses it to disappear into his mattress. The moon is plucked from the sky and fed into a vending machine for a can of soda.

Woshibai’s minimalist renderings are a startlingly delightful cocktail of existential dread and silent slapstick that arrest the mind’s eye with equal parts humor and grace.

Release date: May 16.

Yellowface by R.F. Kuang

'Yellowface' by RF Kuang. Image: William Morrow & Company.
(William Morrow & Company)

Authors June Hayward and Athena Liu were supposed to be twin rising stars: same year at Yale, same debut year in publishing. But Athena’s a cross-genre literary darling, and June didn’t even get a paperback release. Nobody wants stories about basic white girls, June thinks.

So when June witnesses Athena’s death in a freak accident, she acts on impulse: she steals Athena’s just-finished masterpiece, an experimental novel about the unsung contributions of Chinese laborers to the British and French war efforts during World War I.

So what if June edits Athena’s novel and sends it to her agent as her own work? So what if she lets her new publisher rebrand her as Juniper Song–complete with an ambiguously ethnic author photo? Doesn’t this piece of history deserve to be told, whoever the teller? That’s what June claims, and the New York Times bestseller list seems to agree.

But June can’t get away from Athena’s shadow, and emerging evidence threatens to bring June’s (stolen) success down around her. As June races to protect her secret, she discovers exactly how far she will go to keep what she thinks she deserves.

Release date: May 16.

Grand Slam Romance by Ollie Hicks, Emma Oosterhous

Grand Slam Romance by Ollie Hicks, Emma Oosterhous. Image: Abrams Comicarts – Surely.
(Abrams Comicarts – Surely)

In this queer graphic novel that’s equal parts romance, softball, and magical girl drama, Mickey Monsoon and Astra Maxima are best friends . . . and maybe more. That is, until Astra unceremoniously dumps Mickey to become a softball wunderkind at a private girl’s school in Switzerland. Years later, Mickey is the hotshot pitcher for the Belle City Broads, and their team is poised to sweep the league this season. But Mickey is thrown off their game when Astra shows up to catch for the Gaiety Gals, the Broads’ fiercest rival. Astra is flirty, arrogant, and reckless on the field—everything the rule-abiding Mickey hates.

Astra thinks Mickey’s cute and wants to fool around, even despite their rocky history and the trail of jilted softballers that Astra leaves in her wake. Too bad the only thing Mickey wants is vengeance for their broken heart and wounded pride! But even they have to admit–Astra is a certified babe. And that’s not all: Astra isn’t just a softball superstar, she’s a full-fledged magical girl.

The only way for Mickey to defeat Astra is to betray the Broads and join the Danger Dames, a secret elite team, and start dating Astra’s ex! OK, that last bit wasn’t part of the plan . . . Mickey’s rapidly getting in too deep, but is she just in trouble or is she actually in love?

Release date: May 23.

We Don’t Swim Here by Vincent Tirado

We Don't Swim Here by Vincent Tirado.
(Sourcebooks Fire)

Bronwyn is only supposed to be in rural Hillwoods for a year. Her grandmother is in hospice, and her father needs to get her affairs in order. And they’re all meant to make some final memories together.

Except Bronwyn is miserable. Her grandmother is dying, everyone is standoffish, and she can’t even go swimming. All she hears are warnings about going in the water, despite a gorgeous lake. And a pool at the abandoned rec center. And another in the high school basement.

Anais tries her hardest to protect Bronwyn from the shadows of Hillwoods. She follows her own rituals to avoid any unnecessary attention–and if she can just get Bronwyn to stop asking questions, she can protect her too. The less Bronwyn pays attention to Hillwoods, the less Hillwoods will pay attention to Bronwyn. She doesn’t get that the lore is, well, truth. History. Pain. The living aren’t the only ones who seek retribution when they’re wronged. But when Bronwyn does more exploring than she should, they are both in for danger they couldn’t expect.

Release date: May 30.

Honorable mentions (that all also publish today) include: America Redux: Visual Stories from Our Dynamic History by Ariel Aberg-Riger, Ander & Santi Were Here by Jonny Garza Villa, and Spring’s Arcana by Lilith Saintcrow.

Which of these titles are you most excited to read? Let us know in the comments.

(Featured image: Sourcebooks Fire, William Morrow & Company, and Abrams Comicarts – Surely)

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Author
Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.