Standard Deviation: A Novel by Katherine HeinyGraham Cavanaugh is blessed with a lovely (if overly chatty) second wife and a healthy (if obsessive and socially awkward) young son. But he's beginning to wonder if he's got more in common with his first wife than he truly ever realized. Never fear, though -- this isn't a story of a failing marriage. Rather, this charming, humorous debut and its authentic characters offer a sensitive examination of the challenges of love, marriage, trust, parenthood, and commitment.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail HoneymanEleanor Oliphant -- despite her social isolation and the rules she sets to survive weekends -- insists that she is just fine. But is she really? The gentle overtures of a coworker who accepts her as she is gets things rolling and gives her the emotional support she needs when a horrific (and embarrassing) event forces her to reevaluate her life. As it turns out, Eleanor Oliphant is absolutely not completely fine...but she will be. Though an emotional read, Eleanor's unique take on life offers plenty of humor; read it if you enjoyed the damaged or isolated protagonists in Fredrik Backman's A Man Called Ove or Ramsey Hootman's Courting Greta.
The Leavers: A Novel by Lisa KoDeming Guo is a fifth grader in the Bronx when his mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, disappears. Adopted by two white academics and renamed Daniel, he appears to be well-armed for success, but ten years later Daniel has failed out of college. Then he learns that his mother, who he has never stopped wondering about, is still alive. Told first from his perspective and then from hers, this moving, character-driven novel explores the lack of options for undocumented workers. It won the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction in 2016.
Startup: A Novel by Doree ShafrirWho best to write a novel poking fun at startups and the media outlets that cover them than a culture writer from BuzzFeed? Featuring a tech journalist who needs a juicy scoop to keep her job, a high-pressure round of funding for a new health and wellness app, and some inappropriate (and meant-to-be-private) texts, this debut offers plenty of layers: workplace drama, startup satire, and a treatment of the challenges women face in the workforce.
Complicated Family Dynamics
Silver Sparrow: A Novel by Tayari JonesDana Yarboro's father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist. Though both Dana and her mother have always known this, James goes to great lengths to protect his first family from the truth. Despite her mother's tendency to spy on the first wife, Dana is kept from her half-sister by a simple rule: Chaurisse picks first (camp, job, college), and Dana gets what's left. After the two meet accidentally and Dana pursues a friendship with her unsuspecting half-sister, James' secrets inevitably unravel. Set in Atlanta's middle-class African-American community in the 1980s, this novel is peopled with complex, believable characters.
Calling Me Home by Julie KiblerIsabelle and Dorrie are friends, having spent plenty of time together as Dorrie, an African-American hairstylist, cuts 90-year-old Isabelle's hair. But the two are very different: Isabelle is a privileged, elderly white woman, while Dorrie, a single mom, has struggled to open her shop. So it's a little odd when Isabelle asks Dorrie to drive her from their East Texas town to Cincinnati. But Dorrie agrees -- and that's when Isabelle's story of her forbidden, doomed romance with a black man in 1930s Kentucky comes out. Inspired by the life of the author's grandmother, this debut novel touches on prejudice past and present.
We Are Water: A Novel by Wally LambFramed by an intriguing story of a black artist, this complex novel revolves around Anna Oh, a middle-aged artist and mother who's left her Chinese-Italian husband for her art dealer, a Greek woman. Told in alternating perspectives and evoking Greek mythology, the story tangles the past and the present together -- Anna's recollections of her brutal childhood and her soon-to-be wife's prenup request each lead to the exploration of painful family dynamics.
They May Not Mean to, But They Do by Cathleen SchineTaking its title from a famous poem by Philip Larkin, this darkly comic novel is full of sharp commentary and awash in guilt, all focused around family relationships. Joy Bergman is 86, recently widowed, and about to be forcibly retired. She doesn't want to be a burden, and isn't ready for a nursing home, but shouldn't really live alone in her Manhattan apartment. Her kids do the best they can for her, but they are busy with families and complications of their own. Narrated in turn by each of the Bergmans, this story may well hit home with readers who have aging parents of their own.
Modern Lovers by Emma StraubIn college, Elizabeth, Andrew, Zoe, and Lydia were friends and bandmates; after a brush with fame, Lydia OD'd at 27. The rest are middle-aged, still close but distracted by common mid-life problems. Elizabeth and Andrew, married to each other, disagree on an important point, while Zoe's marriage to outsider Jane is faltering. Career woes, lack of fulfillment, an awareness that youth is fleeting -- these are just a few of the issues that keep them up at night (there's also the troubling fact that their teenage children have discovered sex -- and each other). Character-driven and witty, Modern Lovers alternates between the perspectives of each of the well-drawn protagonists.
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