Fiction A to Z
The Windfall by Diksha BasuMr. and Mrs. Jha have come into a sum of money that will allow them to move to a wealthy community, leaving behind the long-time friends of their humble Delhi apartment complex. But keeping up with the Chopras proves more difficult than expected: while Mr. Jha is eager to fit in (making extravagant purchases at every turn), Mrs. Jha is less enthusiastic. This debut, an engaging comedy of manners, gently skewers India's upwardly mobile middle classes while emphasizing the importance of family bonds.
What We Lose by Zinzi ClemmonsRaised in the U.S., Thandi is the daughter of a mixed-race mother from South Africa and an African-American father. The privilege that her father's career as a professor affords their nuclear family stands in stark contrast to those family members still living in post-apartheid Johannesburg, but it is the death of Thandi's mother that forms the center of the novel. In a life shaped by not-belonging, the loss of her mother threatens to overwhelm Thandi, especially as she deals with an unplanned pregnancy. Written in short chapters punctuated by photographs and other ephemera, this collage-like debut has been garnering praise from sources from The New York Times to Vogue.
Less by Andrew Sean GreerLess than a year after their breakup, midlist novelist Arthur Less is invited to his ex-boyfriend's wedding. Not wanting to go but lacking (so far) a compelling reason to RSVP his regrets, he accepts every other invitation that comes his way, traveling to New York, Mexico, Morocco, and other far-flung destinations. In his efforts to run away from facing the fact that he has irrevocably lost the love of his life, however, he finds other reasons to live -- though of course he's got to endure some comically wrong turns first. With a surprising narrator (you'll find out at the end who) and flawed but sympathetic characters, Less is a poignant meditation on the universal search for love and happiness.
Hum if You Don't Know the Words by Bianca MaraisThis heart-wrenching debut is set in Johannesburg in the 1970s, a time of great upheaval and violence. It features a young white girl, Robin, whose parents have been killed, and a visiting Xhosa woman, Beauty, searching for her own daughter, who has disappeared in the Soweto uprisings. When Beauty is hired as a caretaker for Robin, they build a tentative bond despite the restrictions of apartheid. Both Robin and Beauty share narrative duties, often relaying their perspectives of the same events, and bearing a moving message of equality.
The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo by Ian StanselAs the title suggests, this compelling, brooding debut novel will appeal to fans of modern Westerns, with its themes of justice, vengeance, and rivalry...as well as plenty of horsemanship. Set in modern-day Marin, in northern California, it opens as Silas Van Loy has killed his brother, saddled up his horse, and begun making his escape. The relationship between the two brothers -- antagonistic, resentful, and competitive -- unfolds through flashbacks as Silas flees, with his sister-in-law in hot pursuit, intent on revenge.
Luxe by Ashley AntoinetteIn this high-drama series debut, hardworking Bleu Montclair barely survives being shot by robbers one week before her escape from Flint, Michigan by way of a scholarship to UCLA. Though motivated to better herself, she nevertheless falls prey to her roommate, who leads her into a life where partying is prioritized over studying. Soon, Bleu is trafficking drugs in order to make a little more bank, with devastating results. Will Bleu free herself from her dangerous lifestyle and return to her studies? You won't find answers here, but bestselling author Ashley Antoinette will have you hooked and looking to pick up the next in the series, A Lala Land Addiction.
Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó CrucetCuban-American student Lizet Ramirez has deeply upset her family by choosing to attend a private college far from home -- a school where she feels unmoored both socially and academically. At home, her quickly splintering family has been pulled into the story of orphaned Cuban immigrant Ariel Hernandez (modeled on real-life Elian Gonzalez) and the heated debates that surround him. These two stories -- the racist undertones of a privileged private college and the treatment of immigration on a national scale -- "play off each other in a masterful way" (Kirkus Reviews).
The Devil and Webster by Jean Hanff KorelitzNaomi Roth is the first woman president of an elite progressive college; her first major challenge had been a transitioning transgender student living in a women-only dorm, so this year's protest against a denial of tenure seems easy enough to handle at first. But that's before a charming student activist steps up to take the lead in pushing things ever further. The students believe the denial is racially motivated (it's not, but Roth can't share the real reasons), and the debate soon captures media attention. Dramatic and centered on very real issues, this novel could be torn from the headlines; for another academia-centered novel from the same author, try Admission.
Dear Committee Members by Julie SchumacherSly and satirical, this novel is told entirely through the biting letters of one overwhelmed college professor, who claims that the demands of academia require more letters of recommendation than published articles. Budget cuts, staff eliminations, favoritism, and other small indignities find their way into his endless stream of comical, frank, and sometimes passive-aggressive letters. Pick this up if you enjoyed Aaron Thiel's similarly college-set Ghost Apple.
Loner by Teddy WayneDavid Federman is pretty smart but not particularly memorable. Overlooked in high school, he hopes to make a name for himself at Harvard, but (unsurprisingly) things don't get off to a great start. Ignoring friendly overtures from another girl, he becomes enamored of fellow freshman Veronica, and does everything and anything he can to ingratiate himself with her. Soon, his self-absorbed attempts move from pathetic to disconcerting to downright creepy, and we're left wondering exactly what is going on. Readers who appreciate psychological discomfort (think Sebastian Faulks' Engleby) will relish the increasingly unsettling nature of David's actions.
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