“I wrote the book I wanted to read: darkly funny and very horny.” And there you have it, that’s why I’m reading All-Night Pharmacy. JK, but I just couldn’t resist starting out with that perfect quote from author Ruth Madievsky (she/her).

In all seriousness, this book has been on basically every single ‘“most-anticipated” and “best” book list for the summer and it’s for good reason. A fever dream of a novel, “All-Night Pharmacy is a darkly funny story about a recent high school graduate navigating her nascent queerness, opioid and benzodiazepine addiction, a toxic relationship with her older sister, and generational immigrant trauma,” according to Ruth herself. Obviously that description paints a really vivid picture and promises a lot. But I can tell you that from the first page, you’ll be in it. Seriously, though. It opens with “Spending time with my sister, Debbie, was like buying acid off a guy you met on the bus.” (Which also happens to be one of the author’s fave quotes from the book.)

Epic sentences like that one are kind of Ruth’s thing. Before All-Night Pharmacy, she’d published a book of poetry. In drafting her literary fiction debut, she agonized over every word, writing “in pursuit of beauty and truth above all else,” and hoping every sentence would be a “banger.” She soon realized that she had to leave behind some of that poetic ambiguity in favor of effectively fleshing out her characters or describing a difficult scene. That being said, All-Night Pharmacy is def still full of bangers and the beautiful prose was part of the reason I loved it so much.

The gorgeous writing was especially effective in weaving a love letter to LA throughout the book, despite the fact that the characters were making very bad decisions all over the city. “LA is so wild and bustling and full of contradictions,” says Ruth, “Forgive me, but: LA is like an all-night pharmacy—it’s got a little of everything. There’s never a shortage of things to do, to the point where you have to decide which goat yoga dive bar you want to meet at. You can be anyone here, which means you can also be no one. It’s thrilling and terrifying.” As a California native, I can confirm.

But the true magic of the book to me was the way that Ruth tackled complicated family dynamics and intergenerational trauma in an authentic, funny, and illuminating way. Though she’s super clear that the unnamed narrator’s family is not based on her own, the marginalizing identities they have overlap with her own. She explains, “A lot of my family history around Soviet Jewishness made its way into the novel. My great-grandfather really was murdered as an enemy of the state, and the trip to Moldova in Part III very much mirrors my own itinerary when I visited in 2019—my first time since immigrating.”

And it’s not just these literal experiences that ended up on the page; her characters are an exploration in how these historical traumas affect us even when we’re far removed from them. “Our narrator and her older sister put themselves in harm’s way constantly, and I think that chaos-seeking has to do with their discomfort around how much safer and more privileged their lives are compared to their ancestors,” Ruth says. The novel doesn’t give us a clear answer about how family legacies connect to our current struggles, but Ruth shares that she thinks that “there is a connection and that it’s messy, messy, messy.”

Good thing I love mess. (You kind of have to as a daughter of immigrants, lol). Anyways, read this novel and maybe suggest it for your book club’s next pick if it’s your turn to choose.

Thinking about Icelandic princes (read the book and you’ll understand),
Reina Sultan, associate editorial director