17 Best Books to Read This Month
Conniving cabals, obsessive lovers, intrepid teens.
The new Americans of Sour Heart, Jenny Zhang’s stereotype-obliterating first fiction, are stuck in limbo. Christina, a young girl from Shanghai, struggles to grow up as her parents sacrifice themselves to the dehumanizing humiliations of poverty. In "The Empty the Empty the Empty," the prettiest girl in the class seeks validation from her clueless boyfriend, and in "Our Mothers Before Them," the ghosts of the Cultural Revolution haunt a family who believed they could kill the past by ignoring it. Though connected by their shared immigrant experience, these feisty narrators remain isolated, caught between traditions, quietly speaking a language all their own.
But while her characters mostly keep their thoughts to themselves, Zhang has built her explosive young career on living out loud. She’s written about surviving an abusive relationship, published a cult-hit chapbook inspired in part by Texas abortion rights advocate Wendy Davis, and been nominated for a National Magazine Award for an essay that uses suicide hashtags on Instagram to analyze shock artist Tracey Emin’s work. With Sour Heart,Zhang’s obsessions and powers—her wit, achingly adolescent characters, pop-poetic vulgarity—have coalesced. Her mainstream debut, in addition to being the inaugural publication of Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner’s imprint, is both fully realized and nervy, a fearless entrance into a literary world that’s Zhang’s for the taking.