Suspiciously Specific #2: Moths
Suspiciously Specific is a new bi-weekly series of assorted book recommendations, inspired by the subreddit by the same name, as well as a short video-series by BooksandLala on Youtube. In short-form, I’ll recommend ten books across genres, that happen to have something very specific in common. Whether it be a very niche trope, a cover-trend, or a theme that is só specific you’re surprised there’s more than one book that includes it. Requests for a list are always welcome if you happen to have a specific trope you love, but think is too niche to find recommendations for.
A flutter of wings in the shadows… The reflection of a false eye in dark… Blink and you’ll miss these tiny creatures of the night, yet they are everywhere between the page of these novels. In literature, moths often are associated with darkness, endings, death and decay, whereas their day-time brothers the butterflies represent the power of change and transformation. It won’t come as a surprise to find these themes present in the following ten books. All of them are shadowy, illustrious and gloomy, making them perfect for the darker days of January.
1. Me (Moth) by Amber McBride genre: novel in verse, magical realism one-line synopsis: a novel in verse that is part coming of age-, part ghost- story about two grieving teens who embark on road trip that has them chasing ghosts and searching for ancestors. the significance of the moth: Aside from the name of our main character, Me (Moth) has many references to native American folklore speckled throughout, in which the Moth is a symbol of a deceased soul roaming the earth. Moths speak to our protagonists grief over the loss of her parents, and play a poetic and gut-punching and powerful role in the progression of this story.
2. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell genre: literary fiction, contemporary one-line synopsis: a profound, impactful and nuanced novel that explores the fallout of the relationship and grooming of a 15-year old girl, by her manipulative teacher 46- years her senior. Told from the dual timeline of the victim then, and in hindsight as an adult with what she knows now. the significance of the moth: apart from the prominent appearance on the cover, the butterfly in this novel only plays a small role, but represents fragility, as well as transformation and coming of age.
3. Moths by Jane Hennigan genre: dystopian one-line synopsis: a dystopian thriller, set in a world where women hold all the power after a moth-carried pathogen has affected all the men; turning them crazed and murderous, or killing them outright. the significance of the moth: the moths here are very literal, present as the carriers of the toxin that changed the world and affects all the men in society.
genre: middlegrade magical realism one-line synopsis: a twelve-year-old girl discovers she may have magical powers, and starts to explore the line between science and magic, and life and death, as neither are as solid as she thought they once were. the significance of the moth: our protagonists has an obsession with lepidoptery (the science of butterflies and moths), ever since the death of her sister who was an aspiring entomologist.
5. Lakelore by Anna-Marie McLemore genre: magical realism one-line synopsis: Two non-binary, neurodivergent teens are pulled into a magical world under a lake, as they try to keep their heads above water navigating family, acceptance, love and the feeling of displacement that comes with their identities. the significance of the moth: water-moths flutter from the lake on multiple occasion, representing the blurring of the lines between our world, and the one under the surface.
Genre: fantasy One-line synopsis: young, introverted scholar Lazlo has received nothing but ridicule from his peers over his fascination with the mythic lost city of Weep, thought to have existed one, but having been lost to time almost two centuries now. Everything changes as Lazlo is offered the opportunity of a lifetime; to join an expedition to uncover the lost city, as one of the few experts on its history and lore. What follows is an adventure of mythical and godlike proportion. The significance of the moth: one of our protagonists has the magical power to transform/scream into existence, a cloud of moths, infiltrating the dreams of others.
7. Wildwood Whispers by Willa Reece Genre: magical realism One-line synopsis: a bittersweet story of hope, fate, and folk magic about a young woman who travels to a sleepy southern town in the Appalachian Mountains to bury her best friend, and finds healing within the nature that surrounds her. The significance of the moth: moths and fireflies feature often within the Wildwoods, both signifying Mel’s newfound connection to the earthy and nature, as well as her transformation in healing from trauma.
8. The Language of Moths by Christopher Barzak genre: magical realism, novella one-line synopsis: a coming of age story about love, grief and neurodivergence, in which a boy learns his autistic sister can communicate with the mysterious moth-species their entomologist father is there to study. the significance of the moth: the search for this moth sets the family on a trip to the Allegheny Mountains, creating the inciting incident for the story.
9. The Moth Girl – Heather Kamins genre: magical realism one-line synopsis: a teenage girl finds her world (literally) turned upside down, as she’s struck by a chronic, disabling illness. the significance of the moth: in this case, the moth-thing is a clear metaphor for the protagonists chronic illness and how it leaves her literally floating, losing her firm grasp on the world. It’s a powerful metaphor that many who’ve struggled with disability or chronic illness will be able to relate to.
10. Moths: An Evolution Story by Isabel Thomas Genre: childrens nonfiction, picture book One-line synopsis: A clever picture book about the extraordinary way in which animals have evolved, intertwined with the complication of human intervention, through the observant eyes of a moth. The significance of the moth: the moth here has a double role. It’s our literal “fly on the wall”-observer of change, as well as the change itself, embodying evolution and adapting to the world around you.