12 Must-Read Books of March 2023 – Chicago Review of Books


Here in Chicago, we’re careful about declaring that spring has officially arrived, because we know that all it takes is one snow storm to throw us back into the depths of winter weather again. But it never hurts to dream, especially when the days are growing longer and our books can take us to warmer futures (if only in our imagination). 

At the risk of overextending the metaphor, this March is an undeniably hot month in the publishing world. Fans of any genre are sure to find something to love from this list of new releases, from suspenseful horror stories, novels that blur the boundaries between nonfiction and fiction, and much more. Here’s twelve of our most anticipated books this month to help you get started!

White Cat, Black Dog
By Kelly Link
Illustrated by Shaun Tan
Random House

Kelly Link is one of today’s most darkly playful and inventive voices, and her talents are on full display in her collection White Cat, Black Dog. Pulling from the tradition of Brothers Grimm, seventeenth-century French lore, and Scottish ballads, these seven new short stories reinvent classic fairy tales for the modern age. Perfect for readers who enjoy being surprised with every passing page, Link combines realism and the speculative to captivating results.

Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere
By Robert Lopez
Two Dollar Radio

Robert Lopez’s family story about cultural erasure has stuck with me for months after my first read. Dispatches From Puerto Nowhere is an honest and deep emotional exploration of the author’s family history, dating back to his grandfather Sixto’s immigration to the United States in the 1920s. Lopez honors the past and imagines his grandfather’s history through what he can remember in an effort to re-claim a heritage that has been threatened by assimilation.

The Devil’s Element: Phosphorus and a World Out of Balance
By Dan Egan
W.W. Norton & Company

With works such as The Death and Life of the Great Lakes and his 2021 CHIRBy Award-winning essay “The climate crisis haunts Chicago’s Future,” Dan Egan has cemented himself as one of the most prominent climate writers in the Midwest. With The Devil’s Element, Egan expands his sights to explore the role of phosphorus, one of the most lethal substances on Earth, with uses ranging from rat poison to firebombs and nerve gas. Tracking its usage throughout history as both a tool for farming and destruction, he reports how today our overreliance on phosphorus has created “dead zones” in our waterways across the Great Lakes and beyond. This important piece of reporting will open our eyes to this little-known human-made disaster.  

Biography of X
By Catherine Lacey
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Chicago’s very own Catherine Lacey is well known for her inventive and provocative work that pushes upon the boundaries of genre, and Biography of X is an exciting new entry in that pursuit. The novel follows the widow of a character known as X—an iconoclastic artist and writer—who takes on the task of writing X’s biography after she passes away. Tracing the exploits of this mysterious and complicated figure, including collaborations and feuds with larger-than-life figures such as Bowie and Sontag, Lacey creates a surprising epic that perfectly blends nonfiction and fiction. Both ambitious and masterfully crafted, Biography of X is certainly one of Lacey’s greatest achievements to date. 

Dust Child
By Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
Algonquin Books

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s follow-up to her international bestseller The Mountains Sing is a family epic to remember. Spanning the arc of the Vietnam War and its lingering traumas, Dust Child brings together an unforgettable cast of characters whose lives have forever been changed by past violence. Spanning decades and disparate lives, the book deftly explores the ways we both inherit trauma and redefine our own paths forward.

Island City
By Laura Adamczyk
FSG Originals

The author of the short story collection Hardly Children, Laura Adamczyk is back with her first novel, Island City, which follows a woman who opens up to strangers at a dark bar on the eve of her move back to her hometown in the Midwest. The stories she tells are both deeply telling of her past and unsettling, such as the day her sister got “clobbered at the nursing home” and her father’s battle with cancer, then Alzheimer’s, then cancer again. Adamczyk knows how to destabilize the reader while holding their attention and intrigue, which makes for a devastating first novel that you won’t soon forget. 

By Emilia Hart
St. Martin’s Press

Are you ready for a novel to cast a spell over you? Emilia Hart’s Weyward weaves together the lives of three extraordinary women across five centuries—Kate, who uncovers a family secret dating back to the witch-hunts of the 17th century; Altha, a witch who is awaiting trial for the murder of a local farmer; and Violet, who is trapped in her family’s grand, crumbling estate. This story of female resilience is marked by the beauty of the natural and supernatural worlds, but nothing is more magical than Hart’s writing. 

Trace Evidence
By Charif Shanahan
Tin House Books

In this captivating follow-up to his award-winning debut Into Each Room We Enter without Knowing, Chicago poet Charif Shanahan builds intimacy with every word while exploring the deep roots of a violent colonial past. To put it simply, Trace Evidence is an extraordinary achievement—one of those rare collections that is both written with tenderness and power and constructed with the finest care. 

See Also

Lone Women
By Victor LaValle
One World

The premise for Lone Women is simple enough: a woman with a past, a mysterious trunk, a dark secret, and a town on the edge of nowhere. Perhaps best known for his award-winning The Changeling, Victor LaValle is one of the most exciting authors working in the horror genre today, and with this new novel he turns his skills at suspense and terror to the American West. Hold your breath as you read, but LaValle has built a brutal and compelling portrait of early-twentieth-century America that may just keep you up at night.

The Great Reclamation
By Rachel Heng
Riverhead Books

Rachel Heng’s highly anticipated novel tracks the sweeping changes of Singapore throughout history through the eyes of a young boy named Ah Boon who befriends his neighbor Siok Mei. When the Japanese army invades and occupies the nation, the two are forced to confront the difficulty of keeping their lives and love intact in the face of great uncertainty. 

The Girls
By Edna Ferber
Belt Publishing 

Belt Publishing’s Belt Revivals series has done incredible work bringing Midwestern classics back to print, and here at the Chicago Review of Books we’re cheering on their next installment: Edna Ferber’s The Girls. First published in 1921, the novel revolves around three single “old maids” who strive to join Chicago’s growing middle class in the early twentieth century. Now with an introduction from Kathleen Rooney, this seminal work honors the lives of women who were otherwise disregarded. The Girls deserves a spot on your “classic Chicago literature” shelf, and thanks to Belt Publishing, now you can. 

By Esther Yi
Astra House

Y/N is a provocative debut novel from Esther Yi about a Korean American woman living in Berlin whose obsession with a K-pop idol sends her to Seoul in search of self-destruction. Seized by desire, the unnamed narrator begins writing Y/N fanfic—in which you, the reader, insert [Your/Name] and play out an intimate relationship with the unattainable star. Filled with longing, Yi captures the style of Elif Batuman and the absurdism of Thomas Pynchon to create a fascinating and complicated depiction of how we create and assert our identity. 


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