It’s 1963 in Tallahassee, Florida, and Elwood Curtis has a bright future ahead of him, enrolled in advanced college courses ahead of high school graduation. Then one innocent mistake lands him in the boys’ reformatory, Nickel Academy. Based on Florida’s real Dozier School for Boys, an institution that operated for over 100 years brutalizing young boys, The Nickel Boys is a vital work of historical fiction, challenging every soul to search out the deep truths of the past, to which all of our futures are anchored. — Aubrey W.
It is difficult to believe that Beth Piatote’s stunning collection is a debut. The variety of forms that her writing takes is audacious, and the assured skill with which she pulls it all off is enviable. Each story is filled with insight and empathy and the book as a whole is both moving and invigorating. This is literature at its very best. — Keith M.
The Need is a breathtakingly beautiful, terrifying work of brilliance. Phillips melds thriller with speculative fiction seamlessly and with care, creating a story that examines motherhood as if it were an egg: deftly cracking it open and observing the contents, just before turning up the heat. — Haley B.
From its first beautiful sentence, Mengiste’s magisterial The Shadow King drew me into the stark, dusty sweep of the Second Italo-Ethiopian War. Vast and cinematically written, the novel weaves between Ethiopian soldiers, Mussolini’s troops, Emperor Haile Selassie, and a diverse group of women. It questions the theatre of war and what it means to obey; it questions the roles of women in war, and the various battlefields they traverse; it questions the line between witness and perpetrator. It is the finest and most fascinating novel I have read in a long time, and I hope it lands in many readers’ hands. — Rhianna W.
I jumped on this new book by Levy since I was such a huge fan of Hot Milk. Her latest is one of the most unique and unusual books I have read both in structure and content. It is intellectual but accessible; complex without being indecipherable; dark but strangely pleasant, and at times quite amusing. The book is a captivating and sly take on what it means to look back on one's life and try to make sense of it all. — Nan S.
Starting a new Bryn Greenwood book is like the best first date — all butterflies and promise. I fell immediately and hopelessly in love with Zee and Gentry, just like I did with Wavy and Kellen in All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. Greenwood writes characters that get into my soul, and I very nearly cannot bear to see them hurt.
— Emily F.
A debut that entertains, stuns, and dazzles at every risk-taking turn. This is short story as art and it's mind-boggling that the two best stories, "Glow Hunter" (a sensory trip) and "Starlite" (a seedy hotel masterpiece), were not published before this book's release, making your purchase of this collection mandatory. Parsons is a force and her perfect blend of humor, longing, propulsive style, and humid southern atmospherics makes Black Light one of the best books of the year. — Kevin S.
This revelatory debut novel from poet Ocean Vuong gives lyrical voice to a queer, immigrant experience as it has never before been published. Little Dog is writing a letter to his single mother in a language she cannot read, reflecting on their shared becoming upon moving from Vietnam to Connecticut. Vuong's scope spans the Vietnam War, the significance of Tiger Woods, American poverty, queer sexual awakening, the very nature of language. Deeply intersectional, emotioanlly raw. You're left aglow in the potential of what can be articulated — and the heartbreak of what cannot. What parts of us are shared, what parts are seen, or what gets swept away. — Thomas L.
Three workers get jobs in a sprawling Japanese factory that is a society unto itself. A paper shredder, a proofreader, and a biologist — their jobs so mundane and pointless as to be suspicious. Oyamada's world of the factory is a unique blend of painfully ordinary and fantastical. What could so easily have become Kafkaesque or literary horror, remains a subtle, yet surreal commentary on capitalist Japanese culture. I found its understated sparseness made the story captivating, and the magical realism was the perfect touch.
— Amy W.
A brilliant portrayal of a woman having an identity crisis as she totes her toddler from the frenetic pace of the big city to the relative wilderness of small town northern California. Without the security of her husband, who is trapped overseas in an immigration nightmare, she must find her way on her own. Highly recommended.
— Peter N.
I have never read a book like this. I don't know if there is another book like this. Tokarczuk's Nobel Prize-winning novel (novel?) weaves an expansive view of time and space together with intimate examinations of the human body. It will make you want to quit your job, shed your identity, get on a plane, get on another, stay moving and see everything of this world that you can. I truly loved it.
— Jaye N.
I was completely undone by this quiet story of two pastors and their families in 1960s NYC. Expecting a small story, instead I found a profound, empathetic portrait of good people, their joys and sorrows that is monumental in its humanity. — Kathi K.
Unexpectedly, this turned out to be a joyous book. The 12 characters, mostly black British women, confront racism, sexism and, in some cases, violence, and somehow transcend the limitations forced on them. I loved the way the book was crafted and layered and how it arced and connected all the characters. A very beguiling and graceful read. — Sheila N.
We are living in a moment defined by anger — anger at injustice and those who treat it with indifference (or even glee), anger at the gulf of understanding between divided parts of the country, anger at the impotence that many people feel in a society stratified by race, gender, class, and income inequality. The Topeka School journeys into the white-hot center of that anger, exploring its origins and its consequences, both in the 1990s setting of much of the action and in its reverberations into the present day. It’s also a book about the power, and the limits, of language, and the complications of family in a culture that doesn’t know how to handle its feelings. Nothing else I read this year made think, or feel, as much as this did. — Tim B.
Convenience Store Woman is a finely woven tale of literal and circumstantial expectations placed upon a person. Keiko has no aspirations but to please others, so when that fails, she sees no choice but to try harder. The honesty inherent in Keiko’s struggle is all-too-familiar to many people. Truth is equally scary and liberating. Seen through her eyes, it is also quite confusing. This novel is a masterpiece of modern Japanese literature that resonates across cultures, cuts through the heart of cultural norms, and strips away the notion that we can please others without indicting ourselves. — John K.
In a California college town, a young woman falls into a deep sleep and won’t wake up. This sleeping sickness spreads to more and more people until the town is quarantined. The narrative alternates between reality and the intense dreams of those infected with the sickness. It is eerie, beautifully written and the pacing is spot on. This book absolutely captivated me. — Jennifer H.
As a poetry newbie, I picked up this Pulitzer finalist's volume and was surprised by the easy-to-read, beautiful imagery. Stallings's respect for the ancients shows through. There was so much to enjoy from ancient Greek themes to domestic life to the ubiquitous filler word: "like." — Ruth J.
Crackling with energy and wholly original, Olga Tokarczuk dazzles with this literary thriller that is both ecofeminist manifesto and page-turning whodunit. Tokarczuk transports the reader to a snowy, isolated plateau in Poland where villagers are mysteriously turning up dead. This book is fierce and essential, fundamentally challenging how we perceive the world. — Mary S.
In an underground labyrinth of books reminiscent of the Neitherlands library in Lev Grossman's The Magicians trilogy, Zachary Ezra Rawlins sifts through story after story, searching for his own. After stumbling across an odd anecdote from his childhood in an authorless book, Zachary seeks answers in the subterranean library, through painted doors and overlapping realities. There, he finds stories barely contained by their pages, riddles of Fate and Time, tales of weary travelers and all-seeing owls, and perhaps even love. Morgenstern's highly-anticipated second novel is gorgeously written and highly imaginative. — Alice G.
A beguiling mix of midlife middle-class ennui, people-will-talk village intrigue, and full-on Pagan folk horror. Experimental, but not difficult once you tune into the gaggle of quietly desperate voices, it brilliantly conveys the damp of the English countryside and the mustiness of an environment where everyone knows (or thinks they know) your business. Subliminal, hallucinogenic, and edged with terror. — Mark S.